March 31st, 2011
08:58 AM ET

Thursday Roundup of Libya and the region

By Tim Lister, CNN

Get up to speed on the fast-changing events in Libya as of Thursday morning, ET:

OVERVIEW

– Libya’s foreign minister flees; are there more to come?
– Rebels try to make a stand at Brega as Gadhafi forces adopt new tactics
– NATO, France say no to arming rebels
– Maltese boat on mercy run to Misurata
– Exile for Gadhafi? Not so easy
– Syria claims to be preparing to scrap emergency law
– In Yemen, Saleh playing a dangerous al Qaeda card

LIBYA

Libyan Foreign Secretary Moussa Koussa flees to the UK but no immunity is being offered

Former Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa is not being offered immunity, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague says. He said the defection of Libya's former Foreign Secretary to Britain would encourage others close to Moammar Gadhafi to abandon the Libyan leader. In a statement Hague said: "Musa Kusa is one of the most senior members of the Gadhafi regime, he has been my channel of communicationto the regime in recent weeks....His resignation shows that Gadhafi's regime, which has already seen significant defections to the opposition, is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within.....Musa is talking voluntarily to British officials." One former Libyan envoy describes Moussa Koussa as the "black box" of the Libyan government. (CNN)

A bit more on Koussa:

Mr. Koussa had been a pillar of his government since the early days of the revolution, and previously led the fearsome intelligence unit. Although American officials suspected him of responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Mr. Koussa also played a major role in turning over nuclear equipment and designs to the United States and in negotiating Libya back into the good graces of Western governments. Presumably, he is now in a position to talk about the structure of Mr. Gadhafi’s remaining forces and loyalists. What is unclear is whether his defection will lead to others. "We think he could be the beginning of a stream of Libyans who think sticking with Gadhafi is a losing game," one senior American official said. "But we don’t know." (NYT)

Libyan rebels make a stand near Brega; others fall back to Ajdabiya

Rebels fought on Thursday for control of the eastern Libyan oil town of Brega, a day after troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi drove them back across a coastal strip under a hail of rocket fire. Some rebel forces had fallen back on Wednesday as far as the strategic town of Ajdabiyah, the gateway to the east and about 150 km (90 miles) south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Ajdabiyah was still in rebel hands on Thursday. (Reuters)

Libyan rebels untrained and uncoordinated

As the rebels retreated in disarray, a senior rebel officer, Col. Ahmaed Omar Bani, pleaded for more weapons. He conceded that rebel fighters had "dissolved like snow in the sand" but framed the retreat as a "tactical withdrawal." Faced with fire, the rebels seemed not to know how to use the relatively simple weapons they had in any coordinated fashion, and had almost no capacity to communicate with one another midfight. Throughout the spontaneous retreats on Wednesday, not a single two-way tactical radio was visible. (NYT)

Colonel Gadhafi's army has decided to follow methods which the rebels have used so successfully. Its men are racing forward in the ordinary flat-bed trucks known elsewhere in Africa as 'technicals', with heavy machine-guns or anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back. Others are equipped with mortars. Though these are quite light, they often cause great panic among the rebels, and are quick and easy to move forward. Once the pro-Gadhafi forces managed to regain momentum, there was another shift in morale, and the rebels lost the confidence they had built up during the previous days. The rebels have no perceptible command structure. (BBC)

Misurata's Nightmare and the mercy line from Malta

"We approach the troubled waters very cautiously and then dash towards the dock, dodging the regime’s patrol boats. "The port city of Misurata is suffering, and although three regime patrol boats were blown up by the international coalition, the coast is totally controlled by Col Gadhafi. "The situation seems to be from a book or a movie. We sneak in under the watchful eyes of both the allies and Gadhafi’s navy. The situation is unimaginable. The shelling here is for real," he exclaimed, adding that the people in Misurata are "not safe at all". (TM)

CIA, British intelligence on the ground in Libya

The White House refused to comment on a Reuters report that President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel troops. "I will reiterate what the president said yesterday - no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya," said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a statement. "We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters." (CNN)

New York Times adds: In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said. American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Colonel Gadhafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks. (NYT)

Arming the rebels: France and NATO say no

France is not planning to arm rebels fighting to oust Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi because such a move is not compatible with UN resolutions on the conflict, France's defence minister said Thursday. (US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that UNSC 1973 superceded previous resolutions and did permit arms to be sent to Libya.) NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters Thursday he opposed the idea of arming Libyan rebels, stressing NATO was in the country to protect and not to arm Libyans. "There is a very fine line for the rebels," said independent U.S. analyst Geoff Porter. "The more they seem to be the proxies of the U.S. and Europe trying to oust Gadhafi, the less organic and legitimate their movement becomes." (AFP)

Congress demands to know why they weren’t asked to authorize President Obama’s decision to commit U.S. forces to Libyan mission

Angry members of Congress questioned top administration officials Wednesday on why they weren't asked to authorize President Barack Obama's decision to commit U.S. forces to the Libya military mission. The question dominated a classified briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the U.S. House, according to House members who attended. A separate briefing for the Senate occurred shortly afterward. (CNN)

"How can the left call for the ouster of Muammar Gadhafi for the sin of killing hundreds of Libyans when it opposed the war waged against Saddam Hussein?" former Florida Rep. Joe Scarborough asked Tuesday in a POLITICO column. "If Obama and his liberal supporters believed Gadhafi’s actions morally justified the Libyan invasion, why did they sit silently by for 20 years while Saddam killed hundreds of thousands?" (Politico)

Gadhafi’s son and his US internship with Deepak Chopra

The athletic young man who arrived in Dr. Deepak Chopra's classroom last month for a course in leadership was impeccably dressed in a hunting jacket, polite and unassuming. "He said he was in the investment business," the wellness guru told CNN in a telephone interview. "He did not say, 'I'm from Libya.' He said, 'I'm from North Africa,' or words to that effect." But Chopra knew who he was and where he was from. "We had been informed by the State Department that he was going to be there, that he didn't want to use his official name and we should respect that. So, he introduced himself with his name, but he didn't use the name Gadhafi." His name was Khamis, the 27-year-old scion of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi who was in the third week of an "internship" that took him across the country to hone his leadership skills. (CNN)

Exile for Gadhafi poses legal and political problems

There is a growing focus among the international coalition on the "end game" in Libya, and whether one option would be to persuade Moammar Gadhafi to step down and go into exile. But there are mixed signals from the allies about whether that's feasible or desirable. And there's another obstacle: the ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the request of the UN Security Council into alleged "crimes against humanity" by the Libyan leader. Last week, the chief prosecutor at the court said he was 100% certain that his investigation would lead to charges against Gadhafi and members of his inner circle. (CNN)

SYRIA

Syria studies lifting of emergency

Bashar is trying a different tack. Reform, yes, but all in good time. There will be no hasty concessions to protesters as happened in Tunisia and Egypt; that would be a sign of weakness and would only encourage further demands. Instead, the relevant ministries will announce their plans in due course, after full and careful consideration, etc, etc. That is certainly a bold strategy but in the midst of growing turmoil it's either a sign of supreme confidence or extreme recklessness. So how will it play out in Syria? For hard-core regime supporters, it's an attitude they can understand and admire. One of them, quoted in Joshuah Landis's Syria Comment blog, said: "Finally, I respect Bashar. He has showed that he is a real man. He has spared the country bloodshed. Any sign of weakness, it would have been the start of the end …"All the modern and reform-minded people are dreamers. They live abroad and think that Syria can become a London/Paris/NY if we just reform. It is either civil war or the status quo (Guardian)

Yemen

Opposition says Saleh needs to leave

One of Yemen's most influential political figures says President Ali Abdullah Saleh must leave the country, not just step down from power.Hamid  al-Ahmar, of the Islamist Islah party, told the BBC of opposition plans to escalate anti-government protests. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in several Yemeni cities on Wednesday. (BBC)

Saleh uses threat of al Qaeda to justify hold on power

He magnanimously announced that he was ready to hand over power — but only to the right people. By the following day, the talks had stalled and Saleh was once again staying put. And now, the regime has raised allegations of al-Qaeda mischief, particularly with the Jaar explosion. The President's supporters — including those in the U.S. — see renewed AQAP activity as a reason for Saleh to stay in power. But many Yemenis feel that the government exaggerates the threat posed by extremism. "People throughout Yemen see Ali Abdullah Saleh trying to use this incident as a reason to remain in power," said Mohammad Al-Sabri, a spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties, a coalition of opposition parties. "There has been a strange sort of unison between the actions of Al-Qaeda and the needs of the government over the past 10 years," says Abdul Ghani Al-Iryani, a leading political analyst in Yemen. (Time)

BAHRAIN

Opposition says teenager killed

Security forces in Bahrain have reportedly killed a male teenager yesterday March 30, amid continuing crackdown on the popular revolution around the country. Fifteen-year-old Sayed Ahmed martyred from a faceshot in the village of Saar on Wednesday, Bahrain's Al Wefaq political party announced. (ABNA)

Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah denied on Thursday it had given military training to Shi'ite Bahraini protesters who have been demanding reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab kingdom. (Reuters)

High-profile Bahraini blogger arrested

Mahmood al-Yousif reportedly tweeted "police here for me" early on March 29 in a post that has since been deleted from his profile on the popular information-sharing website. Yousif's brother and son followed up by tweeting a confirmation of the arrest.

Yousif runs several important websites in Bahrain, a small but strategic Persian Gulf country that has seen mass protests against the ruling monarchy in recent months as part of a wave of unrest in the region.

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Topics: CIA • Libya • Middle East • Military • NATO • Yemen

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. stonemason89

    So why was Yousif arrested?

    March 31, 2011 at 11:59 am | Reply
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    March 11, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply

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