Libya - Let's Talk Tactics

Revolutionary forces in Libya hold almost the entire east of the country, with Benghazi as their main stronghold and the birthplace of the revolution. But if they’re to liberate the entire country, they need to winkle Gadaffi out of the west, and out of Tripoli in particular.

That’s a formidable task, as according to reliable reports, Gadaffi still holds Tripoli in an iron fist, ringing it with tanks and filling it with his most elite and most loyal forces, such as the Khamis brigade, along with plenty of mercenaries. He has most of the good stuff - the heavy weapons, APCs and air capability, and while the Revolutionaries have also captured some heavy weapons and reportedly a few tanks themselves, they are for the most part lightly armed and outgunned by the Loyalist troops.

What the revolutionaries do have, however, is overwhelming motivation and force of numbers. These are the people who took on snipers with stones and won. These are the people who stormed a fortified internal security compound in Benghazi against heavy fire and at significant loss of life, finally succeeding when one man rammed a car full of high explosives into the front gates in a suicide attack.

Needless to say, their sheer determination and bravery is not at question. But they have serious practical concerns to face if they’re to see this through and win. It seems to me that before they take Tripoli, they must take Sirte, as it is a Loyalist stronghold that’s plunked squarely in the middle of the path to Tripoli. They can’t simply leap-frog past it.

So my question to all you armchair generals out there is - what is the best way for the Revolutionaries to take and hold Sirte, and from there, take Tripoli?

Fuck tactics. Think strategy and logistics. The longer this goes on the more this favours the Col, simply because he has at his command (a mostly) professional force and has the firepower and logistics. His forces are from the looks of it rallying and beginning to attack.The rebels are doomed if they try to fight it out.

The proper strategy would be to cause more dissent in the ranks make Gadhafi’s position more untenable politically and for gods sake stop asking for foreign help…openly, it will only antagonize those who dislike Gadhafi, but would dislike foreign intervention even less.

I don’t agree that the rebels are doomed if they try to fight - they’ve made huge gains in a very short space of time, against troops that were better trained and better armed. However, you’re right in that the longer this takes, the worse it’s going to be.

Strategy is all well and good, but you can’t rely on Gadaffi’s troops deserting or switching sides. It’s great when it happens, but you can’t count on it to win you the war. So if we limit ourselves to just the question of tactics - how should the Revolutionaries proceed next? Is taking Sirte the answer? If so, how should they do it?

As for logistics, it seems Sirte is a vital target as it has a large airfield. Even if the Revolutionaries don’t have planes themselves - capturing that will deny Gadaffi an much-need point from which to launch his airstrikes or fly in extra mercenaries.

Pretty standard, the revolutionaries success. Rag tag bunch of deserters and civilians tend to do well initially when both the military and politcal leadership is i) shocked and ii) paralyzed. History shows (Indian Rebellion 1857 for instance) is that after initial gains and the government regroups it tends to reverse the flow. Gadhafi is regrouping,

If that’s the case, then how do the Revolutionaries stop the Loyalists from regrouping and reversing the flow? What can they do, in concrete terms, to capture more ground and keep pushing Gadaffi’s forces back?

Capture ground in the hearts and minds of the military still loyal to the regime. Get the most senior military people who have already gone over to the rebels to identify loyalists whose loyalty might be shaky, and make emotional appeals to them, highlighting “the good of the country” and “the old man will die soon anyway.”

Also, bribe loyalist officers to come over. It’s likely that at least some of the loyalists are motivated by fear of losing their spot on the gravy train. Spend money instead of lives and buy a few of these over, then get them to go before the media and speak movingly of their conversion to the cause of freedom.

This may peel away lower rank-and-file members who look up to their leaders (or who believe the leaders are deserting a sinking ship, and they’d better not be left holding the bag).

In these ways, seek to split up the loyalist military in much the same way the country itself is splitting up.

Fine, yes, all well and good, but we’re still not addressing my main question. Sticking to strictly military tactics on the ground - how can the rebels take and hold Sirte, then take the ultimate prize of Tripoli?

Its like asking in the Iraq conflict how could the resistance take and hold Baghdad.

While it is true that the initiative is now held by Gaddafi, I’d say he only has a few months at most to retake the East, or he will eventually lose. Because his troops need to be paid, and the rebels control the oil. And it will be exceedingly difficult to retake Eastern Libya with his small amount of troops, however well-trained: he simply doesn’t have enough men.

So the most likely scenario is he controls Tripoli and the surrounding region for the next few months until his mercenaries desert and his tanks start to run out of fuel and maintenance. He may make halfhearted attempts to foray into the East but they will probably fail due to logistics.

Who knows if the rebels will succeed in retaking Tripoli. They may have to settle with breaking away from Libya entirely.

Look, it’s not a difficult question. If you don’t want to answer it or think it’s pointless, don’t waste your time with this thread.

I’m not talking about strategy, I’m not talking about winning hearts and minds, I’m talking about purely military tactics here. In actual, concrete, nuts-and-bolts *tactical *terms, how can the Revolutionary forces best capture and hold Sirte, and then Tripoli?

Sorry, my last post was directed to AK84

Manufacture tanks, artillery AFV. Create an airforce and a Navy.

In other words they cannot. Any movement towards that place will be hit from the air. Viciously. There best hope is for there to be some sort of uprising in the city, unlikely as it is IIRC Gadhafi’'s home town.

Well Gadaffi’s air units have been pretty ineffectual so far in Bombing Brega and Ajdabiya, but if they are indeed the Rebels’ greatest threat, is there any way to disable or destroy them? Can they sneak into Sirte (perhaps posing as loyalist forces) and blow up planes on the ground at the airstrip there?

And interestingly, the BBC are reporting a serious uprising in the Tajoura district of Tripoli now - over 1,500 protesters are going nuts while security forces fire tear gas and baton rounds at them. No reports of live ammo being used just yet, but it’s a pretty sure bet there will be…

Their best bet there is to hope that some anti-aircraft weaponry falls off a truck somewhere and somehow ends up in their hands. (That is to say, covert aid from some country or another.)

According to many of the news clips we’ve seen, they’ve already captured many anti-aircraft guns. But would they be enough to take Sirte?

And in breaking news, Reuters is now reporting that rebels have taken the airport from government forces is Ras Lanouf - the next town along from Brega and a step closer West to Sirte.

I guess what we’re getting at is that tactics will get people killed and will probably fail to win. Converting the military or sitting on the oil until the dictator runs out of money probably will win, be easier, and involve fewer deaths.

Your question is a bit like asking, “I’m not talking about turning off the electricity – what’s the best way to grab a live wire with my bare hands?” The answer is, don’t. Go outside the box.

To expand a bit on what I was getting at:

Early on, the rebels are a nebulous force in the minds of the military. How big is this thing? Who’s on our side? Where are they? What are they doing? Am I on the losing side already?

Then as the popularity of the rebellion spreads, the military supporting the dictator get even more unhappy. Both the populace and the world are saying bad things about us! Our side is losing territory, losing popularity, losing the media war!

In such a situation, what do military types want most?

They want to hit something. They are trained and inclined to take the initiative and hurt the enemy first.

Early in the conflict, there wasn’t anybody to hit. Then later, there were crowds of civilians – you can send police at those and even shoot at them, but a full-scale military operation might shock the world.

But if the opposition arms, organizes, and begins to advance and hold objectives, it becomes different. THIS is something the military supporting the dictator can recognize, understand, and come to grips with. Something they can HIT.

Maybe the rebels can take their lumps. It’s happened before. But fear is a rational response to tanks, artillery, bombs, and machine guns. It’s also a highly contagious response. It only takes a few guys running away to infect a whole position, giving the military a high-visibility victory.

And military victories boost the dictator’s prestige as well as increasing the fear in his foes – fear that has already held them down for 40 years in this case. A few smashing victories can turn around the press coverage, encourage the dictator’s military support, and kill or cow opposition leaders.

It’s not especially in the rebels’ interest to seek pitched battle. Their enemies want it and are good at it and are much better equipped for it. The risk is huge, the cost in lives and property damage will be high, and the payoff is uncertain anyway – the military may well be able to absorb a few initial defeats and yet still rebound from them in ways a civilian insurgency would be hard-pressed to equal.

If it were up to me, I would avoid creating visible targets for the military as long as I could, and let the gnawing uncertainty and feeling of impotence work on them while my side quietly worked on winning hearts and minds (and then showing them off in the media to increase the perception the tide is turning our way).

Strategy and tactics? Let’s talk logistics.

The main logistic is Follow the Money. If the rebels hold most or all of the oil pipelines and ports in eastern Libya, they ought to:

  • Consolidate their gains. (Especially by beefing up their provisional government.)
  • Defend their lines.
  • Threaten Tripoli and Sirte, forcing the loyalists to defend those cities.
  • Sell oil to buy weapons, training, and “advisors.”
  • Build a decent military that will be capable of taking Tripoli.

I agree with the others that a major assault on Sirte or Tripoli would not be the best tactic. Right now I think the best thing would be to just lay siege to those areas. Work with the international community to institute a no-fly zone and a blockade on Gaddafi to prevent him from bringing in more mercenaries and supplies.

Right now the bulk of his forces are tied up in the west and I don’t think he has enough to hold those areas. He might defeat organized resistance in Misurata and Zawiyah, but he has lost the hold on the people, and he will suffer from attrition worse than the rebels. I would expect to see a few officers offering to switch sides in exchange for immunity. Those should be judged on a case-by-case basis, but seriously considered.

Gaddafi may have superior forces, but time and numbers are on the rebels side. Just wait him out and consolidate the gains in the east. Keep training militias and conserve their resources. Encourage guerrilla tactics in the west.

Once a no-fly zone is put in place, I would offer blanket immunity to anyone willing to switch sides. That would put serious pressure on Gaddafi and could lead to a palace revolution.

I would love to see him fall sooner than later, but if later means less bloodshed it is worth waiting a few more weeks. I don’t see him lasting longer than that, especially if a no-fly zone is set up.

Personally, I think Gaddafi just made a critical mistake in forcing about 30,000 foreign workers back to Tripoli from the Tunisian borders. That is going to cost him a lot of manpower to prevent them from causing trouble.

Actually, he just took 30,000 hostages. Those folks were unlikely to join the revolution. They just need to be stuck in a camp with a few guards. But now their home country governments can be pressured, either publicly or privately to avoid doing anything which might upset the Libyan gov’t and lead to less good treatment of the hostages, er, I mean, internees.