Saturday, November 12, 2011

In My Dreams

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Libya's oil-rich east bids for power

(Reuters) - Libya's eastern city of Benghazi would risk fading back into obscurity after a six-month interlude as the seat of the rebel government were it not for one powerful asset: oil.
Benghazi residents are struggling to convert their wartime sacrifices into economic clout to restore the status of a city once deemed on a par with the capital, Tripoli, and rescue it from its relative obscurity in the Muammar Gaddafi era.
Under Gaddafi, Benghazi was at the mercy of Tripoli for its share of state funding, even though most of this is generated from nearby eastern oil fields. Libya's economy is almost entirely reliant on oil and gas revenue.
Cradle of the anti-Gaddafi revolt, Benghazi had languished low on the deposed ruler's list of spending priorities, which many see as punishment for a tradition of eastern resistance to his 42 years of one-man rule -- and to Tripoli's dominance.
"There's a feeling of entitlement in Benghazi and they want rewards. They held the fort for six months and this came on the back of a period of repression," said a Libyan oil industry source in the city where the interim National Transitional Council (NTC) set up its headquarters early in the revolt.
Youssef Mahmoud, an engineer at Jowef Oil, a subsidiary of the state National Oil Corporation (NOC), typifies the sort of grassroots resource regionalism that has the potential to shake up the North African country's bedrock industry.
He heads a group of about 4,000 state oil workers called the February 17 Oil Committee, and is lobbying Libya's interim rulers for a "greater say in oil policy" that would be symbolized by moving NOC headquarters from Tripoli to Benghazi.
"Gaddafi took it (the NOC) to Tripoli because he wanted control. But where are the fields?" complained Mahmoud, jabbing his finger at a map of Libya, showing a large clump of black circles representing oil fields in the eastern Sirte Basin.
The east supplies more than 60 percent of oil exports and much of Libya's untapped oil is thought to be in this region, including the virgin Kufra Basin near the Sudanese border.
Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves.
Benghazi residents hope oil revenue, worth around $130 million a day at current Brent prices, can fuel an economic revival in the east, from cleaning up the streets to promoting new industries such as tourism.
"It's not just oil, we have beautiful places," said Ali, who works in a youth hostel in Benghazi.
Old postcards in hotel cabinets remind visitors of the city's former charms. One shows the long, crescent-shaped Italian 'Lungomare', or seaside promenade, with its Doric columns and distinctive double-domed Catholic cathedral. Another pictures Juliana Beach full of happy, paddling children.
Today, seafront visitors encounter the near-ubiquitous smell of sewage and rusting carcasses of broken-down cars.
It may be hard for Libya's new rulers to ignore Benghazi's demands, given the role the city played in initiating the revolt against Gaddafi in February and spearheading a NATO-backed military campaign that has pushed his troops back to Sirte.
Eastern Libya's many former rebel brigades will not want to see their region lose out in the post-Gaddafi era -- although fighters from the Western Mountains and Misrata may be just as keen to turn their military exploits into political power.
Benghazi's trump card, however, is oil.
"When armed local stakeholders, and perhaps militias, start saying this oil is on our territory, it becomes an emerging political risk," said Henry Smith, Libya analyst at London-based consultancy Control Risks.
Besides the city's well-documented political and military roles, the Benghazi-based Arabian Gulf Oil Company (Agoco) played a vital role for Libya in selling oil and buying fuel when international sanctions had incapacitated the NOC.
This inverted the relationship between the parent company and its subsidiary, perhaps irreversibly.
A senior NOC source said plans were in place to wrest control back from Agoco by mid-October, but added that the relationship between the two firms would likely have to alter.
"There will be a struggle for power. The NOC wants to go back to its old role and Agoco is saying that it supported the revolution so it wants a bigger say," he said.
"It wants a commercial basis. Agoco wants to get some profits from the operations."
In an indication of the simmering tensions, a source within Agoco referred to the NOC as "Bab al-Aziziya for the oil sector" -- the name of Gaddafi's fortified compound in Tripoli.
Healing the historical east-west rifts, and new ones that have emerged during the revolution, will be a key test for interim rulers in the factionalized and heavily-armed country.
Cultural divisions between Tripoli and Benghazi pre-date Roman times when Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were separate provinces. Libya's Senussi kings were from the east and Benghazi was seen as Tripoli's equal before army officers led by Gaddafi toppled King Idris in 1969.
Months of conflict have reinforced a sense of distance between Tripoli and Benghazi, 1,000 km (625 miles) apart.
Poor telephone links mean Libyans must dial internationally between the two cities. Gaddafi forces are still holding out in the coastal city of Sirte, impeding traffic on the main east-west highway and forcing travelers to fly via a NATO air corridor in the Mediterranean or to go by ship.
Benghazi's ambitions for economic power in the new Libya may sound aspirational, but some politicians may be listening.
All three foreign leaders who visited Libya in September -- French, British and Turkish -- chose to visit the city.
"(French President Nicolas) Sarkozy has given a message by coming to speak in Benghazi. He is saying that Benghazi should not be ignored," said Nasser Ahdash, head of the National Forum, a political group which has helped organize marches to back demands that Benghazi should be Libya's economic capital.
In another nod to the eastern city, NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil, from eastern Libya himself, has not yet moved to Tripoli from Benghazi. Initially, his foot-dragging was seen as linked to security concerns. Now it looks more political.
The NTC's vice-chairman and spokesman, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, said the move would not happen until Libya is fully "liberated" from Gaddafi and that the NTC would not abandon Benghazi.
"We will keep a base for the NTC. Benghazi is necessary."
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tribal friction cripples advance on Gaddafi bastion

(Reuters) - - Secret informants and tribal frictions have stalled efforts by Libyan interim government troops to establish control over one of Muammar Gaddafi's last remaining bastions of resistance.

At Bani Walid, a besieged city still loyal to the deposed leader, anti-Gaddafi fighters said traitors among their ranks were passing information to Gaddafi loyalists inside the city, making progress difficult on one of the last frontlines of Libya's 7-month-long war.

The interim government has sent additional brigades to Bani Walid -- home to Libya's biggest tribe, the Warfalla -- to help take the stubborn city. But some fighters on the ground said the move had only added tension to existing tribal sensitivities.

"Locals don't listen to NTC (interim government) commanders," said one fighter, Esam Herebish. "They do what they like. They want to be seen as the city's liberators."

Others openly accused some local Warfalla fighters of betrayal following days of fierce fighting.

"We believe there are traitors among them," said Muhamed el Gahdi, a fighter from the coastal city of Khoms.

He said suspected informants were feeding information to Gaddafi forces about his unit's movements, leading to an ambush on Sunday in which one fighter was killed.

"When we go into the city we trust no one. We don't need Bani Walid fighters. We need bigger weapons and artillery."

Progress was not visible following days of fighting. Bani Walid is still under Gaddafi's control. Explosions boom around the steep, sun-scorched valleys that surround the city from the north as forces loyal to the deposed leader continue to shell rebel positions.

Inside Bani Walid, loyalist gunmen holed up in the hilly city center fire relentlessly from rooftops and pour oil down the streets to block rebel advances, fighters said.

NATO warplanes bombed Gaddafi artillery positions on Saturday to help anti-Gaddafi forces advance into the city but fighters said the air strikes had done little to change the picture.

Gazing down into a dusty valley from a rocky hill, one fighter said he had not expected remnants of Gaddafi's once mighty force to be still so relentless.

"They are firing mortars. Last night we came under a hail of Grad rockets. I don't know what we are going to do now," said the fighter, Mohamed Ibrahim. "I have to admit they have more experience. This front is very difficult."

Others suggested tensions existed even among committed Warfalla fighters because of their close tribal links to the people inside the city.

"Bani Walid fighters say it's their town, they want to liberate it themselves," said el Gahdi, the Khoms fighter. "But when they see their uncles' or cousins' homes they don't want to shoot. This town is difficult. It's strange."


Relations between Warfalla fighters and their comrades from other parts of Libya have not been easy even on the surface, adding the element of tribal discord to the already complicated military picture.

Relations between tribes are a sensitive issue in Libya where Gaddafi deliberately magnified tribal divisions to maximise control over a fractured society.

At Bani Walid, these tensions were all too obvious.

A unit from Tripoli, deployed from the capital to help with the advance, was stopped at a checkpoint and made to wait on the side of the road as Bani Walid fighters streamed toward the city waving flags and flashing victory signs.

Tripoli fighters were disgruntled.

"Bani Walid people are not easy to work with. They think it's their town, they want to lead," said Hafid Bellal, a soldier from Tripoli's Tajoura neighbourhood.

"We are fighting for Libya, for freedom. We have liberated Benghazi, Nalut, Zintan. We are all Libyans."

Warfalla fighters themselves deny there are any tribal tensions.

"I am from the Warfalla. Of course if it's possible to liberate Bani Walid on our own, we would love to do that," said Salah Mohamed, a fighter, as he rested on a bench near a mosque north of the city after a day of fighting.

"We are not stopping anyone from helping us. If we have a chance, we would like to lead. But if that is not possible then we welcome help. We are all from the same tribe."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Special report: The secret plan to take Tripoli

( Source )

(Reuters) - Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime was delivered by a caterer, on a memory stick.

Abdel Majid Mlegta ran the companies that supplied meals to Libyan government departments including the interior ministry. The job was "easy," he told Reuters last week. "I built good relations with officers. I wanted to serve my country."

But in the first few weeks of the uprising, he secretly began to work for the rebels. He recruited sympathizers at the nerve center of the Gaddafi government, pinpointed its weak links and its command-and-control strength in Tripoli, and passed that information onto the rebel leadership on a series of flash memory cards.

The first was handed to him, he says, by Gaddafi military intelligence and security officers. It contained information about seven key operations rooms in the capital, including internal security, the Gaddafi revolutionary committees, the popular guards -- as Gaddafi's voluntary armed militia was known -- and military intelligence.

The data included names of the commanders of those units, how many people worked in each center and how they worked, as well as crucial details like the number plates of their cars, and how each unit communicated with the central command led by intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi and Gaddafi's second son Saif al-Islam.

That memory card -- which Mlegta later handed to officials at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -- provided the basis of a sophisticated plan to topple the Libyan dictator and seize Tripoli. The operation, which took months of planning, involved secretly arming rebel units inside the capital. Those units would help NATO destroy strategic targets in the city -- operation rooms, safe houses, military barracks, police stations, armored cars, radars and telephone centers. At an agreed time, the units would then rise up as rebels attacked from all sides.

The rebels called the plan Operation Dawn Mermaid. This is the inside story -- much of it never before told -- of how that plan unfolded.

The rebels were not alone. British operatives infiltrated Tripoli and planted radio equipment to help target air strikes and avoid killing civilians, according to U.S. and allied sources. The French supplied training and transport for new weapons. Washington helped at a critical late point by adding two extra Predator drones to the skies over Tripoli, improving NATO's ability to strike. Also vital, say western and rebel officials, was the covert support of Arab states such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Doha gave weapons, military training and money to the rebels.

By the time the rebels were ready for the final assault, they were so confident of success that they openly named the date and time of the attack: Saturday, August 20, at 8 p.m., just after most people in Tripoli broke their Ramadan fast.

"We didn't make it a secret," said Mohammed Gula, who led a pro-rebel political cell in central Tripoli and spoke to Reuters as rebels first entered Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziyah compound. "We said it out on the street. People didn't believe us. They believe us now."


Planning began in April, two months into the uprising. Rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril and three other senior insurgents met in the Tunisian city of Djerba, according to both Mlegta and another senior official from the National Transitional Council (NTC), as the alternative rebel government calls itself.

The three were Mlegta, who by then had fled Tripoli and joined the rebels as the head of a brigade; Ahmed Mustafa al-Majbary, who was head of logistics and supplies; and Othman Abdel-Jalil, a scientist who became coordinator of the Tripoli plan.

Before he fled, Mlegta had spent just under two months working inside the regime, building up a network of sympathizers. At first, 14 of Gaddafi's officers were prepared to help. By the end there were 72, Mlegta says. "We used to meet at my house and sometimes at the houses of two other officers... We preserved the secrecy of our work and it was in coordination with the NTC executive committee."

Brigadier General Abdulsalam Alhasi, commander of the rebels' main operation center in Benghazi, said those secretly helping the rebels were "police, security, military, even some people from the cabinet; many, many people. They gave us information and gave instructions to the people working with them, somehow to support the revolution."

One of those was al-Barani Ashkal, commander-in-chief of the guard at Gaddafi's military compound in the suburbs of Tripoli. Like many, Ashkal wanted to defect, but was asked by the NTC to remain in his post where, Alhasi says, he would become instrumental in helping the rebels enter the city.

The rebel planning committee -- another four men would join later, making seven in all -- knew that the targets on the memory sticks were the key to crippling Gaddafi's forces. The men included Hisham abu Hajar, chief commander of the Tripoli Brigade, Usama Abu Ras, who liaised with some cells inside Tripoli, and Rashed Suwan, who helped financially and coordinated with the tribes of Tripoli to ease the rebels' entry.

According to Mlegta and to Hisham Buhagiar, a rebel colonel and the committee's seventh member, the group initially drew up a list of 120 sites for NATO to target in the days leading up to their attack.

Rebel leaders discussed their idea with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a meeting at the Elysee Palace on April 20.

That meeting was one of five in Paris in April and May, according to Mlegta. Most were attended by the chiefs of staff of NATO countries involved in the bombing campaign, which had begun in March, as well as military officials from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

After presenting the rebels' plan "from A to Z", Mlegta handed NATO officials three memory cards: the one packed with information about regime strongholds in Tripoli; another with updated information on regime sites as well as details of 65 Gaddafi officers sympathetic to the rebels who had been secretly supplied with NATO radiophones; and a third which contained the plot to take Tripoli.

Sarkozy expressed enthusiasm for the plan, according to Mlegta and the senior NTC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The leaders slimmed the 120 targets down to 82 and "assigned 2,000 armed men to go into Tripoli and 6,000 unarmed to go out (onto the streets) in the uprising," according to rebel colonel Buhagiar. He joined the opposition National Front for the Salvation of Libya in 1981 and has lived in the United States and trained as a special forces operative in both Sudan and Iraq.

There were already anti-Gaddafi cells in the capital that the rebels knew they could activate. "The problem was that we needed time," the senior NTC official said. "We feared that some units may go out into the streets in a spontaneous way and they would be quashed. We also needed time to smuggle weapons, fighters and boats."

In the early months of the uprising, pro-rebel fighters had slipped out of Tripoli and made their way to the north-western city of Misrata, where they were trained for the uprising, rebels in Misrata told Reuters in June. The leaders of two rebel units said "hundreds" of Tripoli residents had begun slipping back into the city by mid-July. Commander Alhasi and other rebel officers in Benghazi said the number of infiltrators sent into Tripoli was dozens, not hundreds.

"This was not D-Day," Alhasi told Reuters in his office.


Most of the infiltrators traveled to Tripoli by fishing trawler, according to Alhasi. They were equipped with light weapons -- rifles and sub-machineguns -- hand grenades, demolition charges and radios.

"We could call them and they could call each other," Alhasi said. "Most of them were volunteers, from all parts of Libya, and Libyans from overseas. Everybody wants to do something for the success of the revolution."

Although Tripoli was ostensibly under the control of Gaddafi loyalists, rebels said the security system was porous: bribery or other ruses could be used to get in and out. Small groups of men also began probing the government's security system with nighttime attacks on checkpoints, according to one operative who talked to Reuters in June.

It was possible to smuggle weapons into Tripoli, but it was easier and less risky -- if far more expensive -- to buy them from Gaddafi loyalists looking to make a profit before the regime collapsed. The going rate for a Kalashnikov in Tripoli was $5,000 over the summer; in Misrata the same weapon cost $3,000.

Morale got a boost when rebels broke into government communication channels and recorded 2,000 calls between the regime's top leadership, including a few with Gaddafi's sons, on everything from military orders to sex. The NTC mined the taped calls for information and broadcast some of them on rebel TV, a move that frightened the regime, according to the senior NTC source. "They knew then that we had infiltrated and broken into their ranks."

Recordings of two of the calls were also handed to the International Criminal Court. One featured Gaddafi's prime minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi threatening to burn the family of Abdel Rahman Shalgham, a one-time Libyan ambassador to the United Nations and an early defector to the rebels. Al-Mahmoudi described Shalgham as a slave. The other was between al-Mahmoudi and Tayeb al-Safi, minister of economy and trade; the pair joked about how the Gaddafi brigades would rape the women of Zawiyah when they entered the town.

Several allied and U.S. officials, as well as a source close to the Libyan rebels, said that around the beginning of May, foreign military trainers including British, French and Italian operatives, as well as representatives from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, began to organize serious efforts to hone the rebels into a more effective fighting force.

Most of the training happened in the rebel-held Western Mountains. But Eric Denece, a former French intelligence operative and now Director of the French Center for Research on Intelligence, says an elite rebel force of fighters from the east was trained both inside and outside Libya, at NATO bases and those of other allies. This "overseas brigade" was then dropped back into the country. In all, estimated Denece, some 100-200 foreign operatives were sent to Libya, where they focused on training and military coordination. Mlegta confirms that number.


Rebel commander Alhasi insists western special forces were not involved in combat; the main help they gave was with the bombing campaign and training. London, Paris and Washington also say their troops were not involved in combat.

"They complied with our (bombing) requirements, immediately sometimes, sometimes we had a delay," said Alhasi, who has a big satellite photograph of Tripoli on one of his walls. "We had the information on the ground about the targets and relayed it to them."

A European official knowledgeable about such operations said "dozens" of plain-clothes French military advisers were sent to Libya. A French official said between 30 and 40 "military advisers" helped organize the rebels and trained them on basic weapons and more high-tech hardware.

In May, the French began smuggling weapons into western Libya. French military spokesmen later confirmed these arms drops, saying they were justified as "humanitarian support", but also briefing that the aim was to prepare for an advance on Tripoli.

British undercover personnel carried out some of the most important on-the-ground missions by allied forces before the fall of Tripoli, U.S. and allied officials told Reuters.

One of their key tasks, according to allied officials, was planting radio equipment to help allied forces target Gaddafi's military forces and command-and-control centers. This involved dangerous missions to infiltrate the capital, locate specific potential targets and then plant equipment so bomber planes could precisely target munitions, destroying sensitive targets without killing bystanders.


In mid-March, a month after violent resistance to Gaddafi's rule first erupted, President Obama had signed a sweeping top secret order, known as a covert operations "finding", which gave broad authorization to the CIA to support the rebels.

But while the general authorization encompassed a wide variety of possible measures, the presidential finding required the CIA to come back to the White House for specific permissions to move ahead and help them. Several U.S. officials said that, because of concerns about the rebels' disorganization, internal politics, and limited paramilitary capabilities, clandestine U.S. support on the ground never went much beyond intelligence collection.

U.S. officials acknowledge that as rebel forces closed in on Tripoli, such intelligence "collection" efforts by the CIA and other American agencies in Libya became very extensive and included efforts to help the rebels and other NATO allies track down Gaddafi and his entourage. But the Obama administration's intention, the officials indicated, was that if any such intelligence fell into American hands it would be passed onto others.

A senior U.S. defense official disclosed to Reuters details of a legal opinion showing the Pentagon would not be able to supply lethal aid to the rebels -- even with the U.S. recognition of the NTC.

"It was a legal judgment that the quasi-recognition that we gave to the NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people didn't check the legal box to authorize us to be providing lethal assistance under the Arms Export Control Act," the senior official said.


In some ways the rebels' most unlikely ally was Qatar.

The Gulf Arab state is keen to downplay its role, perhaps understandably given that it is ruled by an absolute monarch. But on the ground, signs abounded of the emirate's support. The weapons and equipment the French brought in were mostly supplied by Qatar, according to rebel sources. In May, a Reuters reporter saw equipment in boxes clearly stamped "Qatar." It included mortar kits, military fatigues, radios and binoculars. At another location, Reuters saw new anti-tank missiles.

Qatar's decision to supply arms to the rebellion, one source close to the NTC told Reuters, was instigated by influential Libyan Islamist scholar Ali Salabi, who sought refuge in Qatar after fleeing Libya in the late 1990s. He had previously worked with Gaddafi's son Saif, to help rehabilitate Libyans who had fought in Afghanistan. Salabi's brother Ismael is also a leader of a rebel militia in Libya.

Salabi "is the link to the influential figures in Qatar, and convinced the Qataris to get involved," said the source close to the NTC.


By early June, Libya seemed locked in a stalemate.

After three months of civil war, rebels had seized huge swathes of territory, but NATO bombing had failed to dislodge Gaddafi. The African Union said the only way forward was a ceasefire and negotiated peace. London joined Paris in suggesting that while Gaddafi must step down, perhaps he could stay in Libya.

But hidden away from view, the plan to seize Tripoli was moving into action.

The rebels began making swift advances in the Western Mountains, out of Misrata and around the town of Zintan. Newly arrived Apache attack helicopters operating from Britain's HMS Ocean, an amphibious assault ship, were destroying armored vehicles. NATO aircraft dropped leaflets to dispirit Gaddafi forces and improve rebel morale.

"The game-changer has been the attack helicopters which have given the NTC more protection from Gaddafi's heavy weapons," a French Defense Ministry official said.

The rebels' foreign backers were eager to hasten the war. For one thing, a U. N. mandate for bombing ran only to the end of September; agreement on an extension was not guaranteed. One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the main U.S. concern was "breaking the rough stalemate before the end of the NATO mandate".

The Europeans were also burning through costly munitions and Washington was concerned about wear and tear on NATO allies' aircraft. "Some of the countries... basically every deployable F-16 they had in the inventory was deployed," a senior U.S. defense official told Reuters.

But the momentum was shifting in the rebels' favor.

On July 28, the assassination of rebel military commander Abdel Fatah Younes proved a surprise turning-point. The former Interior Minister had defected to the rebels in February. Some believe he had held back their advance from the east, for reasons that remain unclear. Younes' death at the hands of his own men raised questions about the NTC and added impetus to NATO's desire to push things along in case the anti-Gaddafi forces imploded.

The West forced NTC head Mahmoud Jibril to change his cabinet. NATO then took more of the lead in preparations, according to Denece, who said he has contacts within both French and Libyan intelligence.

There was another boon to the rebels. Regional heavyweight Turkey came out in support of the NTC in July, and then held a conference at which 30 countries backed them. "The Turks actually were very helpful throughout this in a very quiet kind of way," said the senior U.S. defense official.

With the morale of Gaddafi troops eroding, the end was clearly near. Mediocre at the best of times, Gaddafi's fighters began fading away. So too did his secret weapon: foreign mercenaries.

After the uprising began, Gaddafi recruited several thousand mercenaries; some formed the core of his best-organised forces. Most of the hired guns came from countries to Libya's south such as Chad, Mali, and Niger, but some were from further afield, including South Africa and the Balkans.

Among them was a former Bosnian Serb fighter who had fought in Sierra Leone as a mercenary and later worked as a contractor in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hired in March, first as an instructor and later as the commander of a 120mm mortar battery, the fighter, who used his nom-de-guerre Crni ("the Black" in Serbian), told Reuters he had been paid regularly in cash in the western currency of his choice.

"I knew Libyans had poor discipline, but what I have seen was dismal in comparison with what we had in former Yugoslavia during our wars," he told Reuters. "They were cowards, at least many of them. Communications were the biggest problem, as they just couldn't figure out how to operate anything more sophisticated than a walkie-talkie, so we resorted to cellphones, when they worked and while they worked."

It was in early August, he said, that "everything started falling apart." The force of which he was a part began retreating from a rebel onslaught. "At some point we came under fire from a very organised group, and I suspect they were infiltrated (by) NATO ground troops," he said. The loyalist units pulled back to a point about 50 km (30 miles) from Tripoli. By mid-August, "I decided it was enough. I took a jeep with plenty of fuel and water and another two Libyans I trusted, and we traveled across the desert to a neighboring country. It took us four days to get there."


Foreign agents, meanwhile, were circulating far and wide. At the Tunisia-Libya border in early August, a Reuters reporter ran into a Libyan with an American accent who identified himself as the head of the rebel command center in the Western Mountains. He was accompanied by two muscular blond western men. He said he spent a lot of time in the United States and Canada, but would not elaborate.

As the rebels advanced on Zawiyah, the Reuters reporter also saw western-looking men inside the Western Mountain region traveling in simple, old pickup trucks. Not far away, rebels in Nalut said they were being aided by CIA agents, though this was impossible to verify.

Operation Dawn Mermaid was initially meant to begin on August 10, according to Mohammed Gula, the political cell leader in central Tripoli. But "other cities were not yet ready", the leadership decided, and it was put off for a few days.

A debate flared inside the Pentagon about whether to send extra Predator drones to Libya. "It was a controversial issue even as to whether it made sense to pull (drones) from other places to boost this up to try to bring this to a quicker conclusion," the U.S. defense official said.

Those who backed the use of extra drones won, and the last two Predators were taken from a training base in the United States and sent to north Africa, arriving on August 16.

In the meantime, the rebels had captured several cities. By August 17 or 18, recalls Gula, "when we heard that Zawiyah had fallen, and Zlitan looked like it was about to fall, and Garyan had fallen, we decided now is the time."

Those successes had a knock-on effect, U.S. and NATO officials told Reuters. With much of the country now conquered, Predator drones and other surveillance and strike planes could finally be focused on the capital. Data released by the Pentagon showed a substantial increase in the pace of U.S. air strikes in Libya between August 10 and August 22.

"We didn't have to scan the entire country any longer," a NATO official said. "We were able to focus on where the concentrations of regime forces were."


Days before the attack on Tripoli, the White House began leaking stories to TV networks saying Gaddafi was near the end. But U.S. intelligence officials -- who are supposed to give an objective view of the situation on the ground -- were pushing back, telling journalists they were not so sure of immediate victory and the fighting could go on for months.

Then, on August 19, a breakthrough: Abdel Salam Jalloud, one of the most public faces of Gaddafi's regime, defected. Jalloud had been trying to get out for the previous three months, according to the senior NTC official. "He asked for our help but because he wanted his whole family, not only his immediate one, to flee with him it was a logistical problem. His whole family was around 35."

By now, the mountain roads were under rebel control. They took him and his family from Tripoli to Zintan and across the border into Tunisia. From there, he flew to Italy and on to Qatar.

The rebel leadership was ready. But now NATO wanted more time. "Once they got control of Zawiyah, we were sort of expecting that they would make a strategic pause, regroup and then make the push on into Tripoli," the senior U.S. defense official said.

"We told NATO we're going to go anyway," said a senior NTC official.

The western alliance quickly scaled back its number of bombing targets to 32 from 82, while rebel special forces hit some of the control rooms that were not visible, like those in schools and hospitals.

The signal to attack came soon after sunset on August 20, in a speech by NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil. "The noose is tightening," he said. A "veritable bloodbath" was about to occur.

Within 10 minutes of his speech, rebel cells in neighborhoods across Tripoli started moving. Some units were directly linked to the operation; many others were not but had learned about the plan.

"We didn't choose it, the circumstances and the operations led us to this date," Alhasi told Reuters when asked why the uprising in Tripoli began then. "There was a public plan in Tripoli that they would rise up on that day, by calling from the mosques. It was not a military plan, not an official plan, it was a people's plan. The people inside Tripoli, they did this in coordination with us."

In the first few hours, rebel cells attacked installations and command posts. Others simply secured neighborhoods, setting up roadblocks and impeding movement.

Ships laden with food and ammunition set off from rebel-held Misrata. Rebel forces began pushing toward the capital from the Western Mountains and from the east. According to French newspapers, NATO cleared a path on the water by destroying pro-Gaddafi speed boats equipped with explosives.

The first rebel soldiers reached the city within a few hours. The rag-tag army didn't look like much: some warriors wore football kit bearing the name of English soccer players. But they encountered little resistance.

One rebel source said Gaddafi had made a fatal error by sending his important brigades and military leaders, including his son Mu'atassem, to secure the oil town of Brega. The Libyan leader apparently feared the loss of the oil area would empower the rebels. But it meant he left Tripoli without strong defences, allowing the rebels easy entry.

The air war was also overwhelming the regime. Under attack, Gaddafi forces brought whatever heavy equipment they still had out of hiding. In the final 24 hours, a western military official said, NATO "could see remnants of Gaddafi forces trying to reconstitute weapons systems, specifically surface-to-air missiles". NATO pounded with them with air strikes.


By Sunday August 21, the rebels controlled large parts of Tripoli. In the confusion, the NTC announced it had captured Saif al-Islam. Late the following evening, though, he turned up at the Rixos, the Tripoli hotel where foreign reporters were staying. "I am here to disperse the rumors...," he declared.

U.S. and European officials now say they believe Saif was never in custody. NTC chief Mahmoud Jibril attributes the fiasco to conflicting reports within the rebel forces. But, he says, the bumbling turned into a bonanza: "The news of his arrest gave us political gains. Some countries recognized us, some brigades surrendered ... and more than 30 officers defected."

As the Gaddafi brigades collapsed, the rebels reached a sympathizer in the Libyan military who patched them into the radio communications of Gaddafi's forces. "We could hear the panic through their orders," said the senior NTC official. "That was the first indication that our youths were in control of Tripoli."

As the hunt for Gaddafi got underway, the NTC began implementing a 70-page plan, drawn up in consultation with its foreign military backers, aimed at establishing security in the capital.

Officials in London, Paris and Washington are at pains to say the plan is not based on the experience of Iraq or any other country, but the lessons of their mistakes in Baghdad are obvious.

At a press conference in Qatar, NTC head Jibril said Libya would "rehabilitate and cure our wounds by being united so we can rebuild the nation."

Unity was not hard to find during the uprising. "The most important factor was the will of the people," commander Alhasi told Reuters. "The people hate Gaddafi."

Will Libya remain united once he's gone?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Firms Aided Libyan Spies

TRIPOLI—On the ground floor of a six-story building here, agents working for Moammar Gadhafi sat in an open room, spying on emails and chat messages with the help of technology Libya acquired from the West.

The recently abandoned room is lined with posters and English-language training manuals stamped with the name Amesys, a unit of French technology firm Bull SA, which installed the monitoring center. A warning by the door bears the Amesys logo. The sign reads: "Help keep our classified business secret. Don't discuss classified information out of the HQ."

The room, explored Monday by The Wall Street Journal, provides clear new evidence of foreign companies' cooperation in the repression of Libyans under Col. Gadhafi's almost 42-year rule. The surveillance files found here include emails written as recently as February, after the Libyan uprising had begun.

One file, logged on Feb. 26, includes a 16-minute Yahoo chat between a man and a young woman. He sometimes flirts, declaring that her soul is meant for him, but also worries that his opposition to Col. Gadhafi has made him a target.

"I'm wanted," he says. "The Gadhafi forces ... are writing lists of names." He says he's going into hiding and will call her from a new phone number—and urges her to keep his plans secret.

"Don't forget me," she says.

This kind of spying became a top priority for Libya as the region's Arab Spring revolutions blossomed in recent months. Earlier this year, Libyan officials held talks with Amesys and several other companies including Boeing Co.'s Narus, a maker of high-tech Internet traffic-monitoring products, as they looked to add sophisticated Internet-filtering capabilities to Libya's existing monitoring operation, people familiar with the matter said.

Libya sought advanced tools to control the encrypted online-phone service Skype, censor YouTube videos and block Libyans from disguising their online activities by using "proxy" servers, according to documents reviewed by the Journal and people familiar with the matter. Libya's civil war stalled the talks.

"Narus does not comment on potential business ventures," a Narus spokeswoman said in a statement. "There have been no sales or deployments of Narus technology in Libya." A Bull official declined to comment.

The sale of technology used to intercept communications is generally permissible by law, although manufacturers in some countries, including the U.S., must first obtain special approval to export high-tech interception devices.

Libya is one of several Middle Eastern and North African states to use sophisticated technologies acquired abroad to crack down on dissidents. Tech firms from the U.S., Canada, Europe, China and elsewhere have, in the pursuit of profits, helped regimes block websites, intercept emails and eavesdrop on conversations.

The Tripoli Internet monitoring center was a major part of a broad surveillance apparatus built by Col. Gadhafi to keep tabs on his enemies. Amesys in 2009 equipped the center with "deep packet inspection" technology, one of the most intrusive techniques for snooping on people's online activities, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp. also provided technology for Libya's monitoring operation, people familiar with the matter said. Amesys and ZTE had deals with different arms of Col. Gadhafi's security service, the people said. A ZTE spokeswoman declined to comment.

VASTech SA Pty Ltd, a small South African firm, provided the regime with tools to tap and log all the international phone calls going in and out of the country, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the matter. VASTech declined to discuss its business in Libya due to confidentiality agreements.

Libya went on a surveillance-gear shopping spree after the international community lifted trade sanctions in exchange for Col. Gadhafi handing over the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and ending his weapons of mass destruction program. For global makers of everything from snooping technology to passenger jets and oil equipment , ending the trade sanctions transformed Col. Gadhafi's regime from pariah state to coveted client.

The Tripoli spying center reveals some of the secrets of how Col. Gadhafi's regime censored the populace. The surveillance room, which people familiar with the matter said Amesys equipped with its Eagle system in late 2009, shows how Col. Gadhafi's regime had become more attuned to the dangers posed by Internet activism, even though the nation had only about 100,000 Internet subscriptions in a population of 6.6 million.

The Eagle system allows agents to observe network traffic and peer into people's emails, among other things. In the room, one English-language poster says: "Whereas many Internet interception systems carry out basic filtering on IP address and extract only those communications from the global flow (Lawful Interception), EAGLE Interception system analyses and stores all the communications from the monitored link (Massive interception)."

On its website, Amesys says its "strategic nationwide interception" system can detect email from Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail and see chat conversations on MSN instant messaging and AIM. It says investigators can "request the entire database" of Internet traffic "in real time" by entering keywords, email addresses or the names of file attachments as search queries.

It is unclear how many people worked for the monitoring unit or how long it was operational.

In a basement storage room, dossiers of Libyans' online activities are lined up in floor-to-ceiling filing shelves. From the shelves, the Journal reviewed dozens of surveillance files, including those for two anti-Gadhafi activists—one in Libya, the other in the U.K.—well known for their opposition websites. Libyan intelligence operators were monitoring email discussions between the two men concerning what topics they planned to discuss on their websites.

In an email, dated Sept. 16, 2010, the men argue over whether to trust the reform credentials of Col. Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, who at the time was widely expected to succeed his father as Libya's leader. One man warns the other that the younger Gadhafi is trouble. "I know that you hope that Seif will be a good solution," he writes. "But … he is not the proper solution. I'm warning you."

Computer surveillance occupied only the ground floor of the intelligence center. Deeper in the maze-like layout is a windowless detention center, its walls covered in dingy granite tile and smelling of mildew.

Caught in the snare of Libya's surveillance web was Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef, who handles Libya reporting for the activist group. Files monitoring at least two Libyan opposition activists included emails written by her, as well as messages to her from them.

In one email, dated Aug. 12, 2010, a Libyan activist implores Ms. Morayef to help him and his colleagues fight a court case brought against them. "The law is on our side in this case, but we are scared," he wrote. "We need someone to help." The email goes into specific detail about the plaintiff, who was a high-ranking member of a shadowy group of political commissars defending the Gadhafi regime.

Ms. Morayef, reached Monday in Cairo, where she is based, said she was last in contact with the Benghazi-based activist on Feb. 16. She said she believes he went into hiding when civil war broke out a week later.

Another file, dated Jan. 6, 2011, monitors two people, one named Ramadan, as they struggle to share an anti-Gadhafi video and upload it to the Web. One message reads: "Dear Ramadan : Salam : this is a trial to see if it is possible to email videos. If it succeeds tell me what you think."

Across town from the Internet monitoring center at Libya's international phone switch, where telephone calls exit and enter the country, a separate group of Col. Gadhafi's security agents staffed a room equipped with VASTech devices, people familiar with the matter said. There they captured roughly 30 to 40 million minutes of mobile and landline conversations a month and archived them for years, one of the people said.

Andre Scholtz, sales and marketing director for VASTech, declined to comment on the Libya installation, citing confidentiality agreements. The firm sells only "to governments that are internationally recognized by the U.N. and are not subject to international sanctions," Mr. Scholtz said in a statement. "The relevant U.N., U.S. and EU rules are complied with."

The precise details of VASTech's setup in Libya are unclear. VASTech says its interception technology is used to fight crimes like terrorism and weapons smuggling.

A description of the company's Zebra brand surveillance product, prepared for a trade show, says it "captures and stores massive volumes of traffic" and offers filters that agents can use to "access specific communications of interest from mountains of data." Zebra also features "link analysis," the description says, a tool to help agents identify relationships between individuals based on analysis of their calling patterns.

Capabilities such as these helped Libya sow fear as the country erupted in civil war earlier this year. Anti-Gadhafi street demonstrators were paranoid of being spied on or picked up by the security forces, as it was common knowledge that the regime tapped phones. Much of the early civil unrest was organized via Skype, which activists considered safer than Internet chatting. But even then they were scared.

"We're likely to disappear if you aren't careful," a 22-year-old student who helped organize some of the biggest protests near Tripoli said in a Skype chat with a foreign journalist before fleeing to Egypt. Then, on March 1, two of his friends were arrested four hours after calling a foreign correspondent from a Tripoli-based cellphone, according to a relative. It is unclear what division of the security service picked them up or whether they are still in jail.

The uprising heightened the regime's efforts to obtain more intrusive surveillance technology. On Feb. 15 of this year, as anti-government demonstrations kicked off in Benghazi, Libyan telecom official Bashir Ejlabu convened a meeting in Barcelona with officials from Narus, the Boeing unit that makes Internet monitoring products, according to a person familiar with the meeting. "The urgency was high to get a comprehensive system put in place," the person said.

In the meeting, Mr. Eljabu told the Narus officials he would fast-track visas for them to go to Libya the next day, this person said. Narus officials declined to travel to Tripoli, fearing damage to the company's reputation.

But it was too late for the regime. One week later, Libyan rebels seized control of Benghazi, the country's second largest city, and the capital of Tripoli was convulsing in antiregime protests. In early March, Col. Gadhafi shut down Libya's Internet entirely. The country remained offline until last week, when rebels won control of Tripoli.

Source ( WSJ )

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Patrol with the Benghazi Brigade


Under the scorching heat of the Tripoli sun, Masoud Bwisir, 38, and his fellow rebels have just taken control of a checkpoint Friday in the village of Tajura, six miles east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli. All night, local youths manned the barricade — composed of nothing more than a few concrete blocks and some metal railing — but they wanted someone to take over, so they could pray in an adjacent mosque. And so Bwisir and his crew, still relatively fresh off a tugboat from Benghazi, have relieved them.

A fighter signals that a driver is refusing to open his trunk for inspection and Bwisir comes over. When the hatch is lifted, the rebels find 20 pounds of explosives underneath some plastic bags filled with debris. Local residents, who are watching from beyond the traffic circle, begin to panic, but Bwisir, a businessman back In Benghazi, calmly dismantles the bomb. Throughout Tajura, Benghazi fighters are winning the confidence of the residents they have been tasked to protect. In doing so, they have calmed local residents' fears that the Easterners have arrived to lord it over a region long accustomed to ruling Libya. (See pictures of Benghazi during wartime.)

Having fought for six months against forces loyal to deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, units such as Bwisir's have much more combat experience than the newly formed militias sprouting up in the capital over the past few days. They have put their skills to use by stomping out the remaining forces of the deposed strongman still refusing to accept their commander's defeat. "I haven't met many people from Benghazi and was worried that because they made the revolution they would want to own the country," Ashraf Tresh, 34, says. "But the way their fighters have protected us with their courage and expertise, I am happy to welcome them."

Many here share Tresh's sentiments. On Saturday the local buzz was about a weapons depot the brigade found on a farm five miles east of Tajura. Among the fig trees in the fields, Omar Ruba, 34, and his rebels discovered a large warehouse full of GRAD rockets and an assortment of gas masks and grenades. Gaddafi loyalists still active in the region had been using the farm to resupply their fighters, who were spread over rural areas that rebels still have not subdued. "We know Gaddafi brigades are here and want to stop the revolution," explained Riyad Gofar, 43, a Tripoli crane operator, at a checkpoint on the dirt road near the farm. "But we don't have the men to patrol the whole place. These guys do." He then points to a pick-up truck filled with Ruba's Benghazi fighters. "We are so happy they are here." (See pictures of Gaddafi's 40 years in power.)

Tajura residents have expressed their gratitude to the Benghazi brigade in many ways. When the fighters return to their makeshift camp in a local school, hot meals prepared by their neighbors are waiting. Soft goat meat topped with chick peas in a thick red sauce is served, with buckets full of dates on the side "It's much hotter here than in Benghazi and we can't talk to our families" says Ayub Legaha. "But the people here make the pains go away and make us feel like Libya is one?" The 23 year old law student then grabs a handful of dates.

When told about the appreciation Tajura residents have expressed for their new guests, rebel commander Anwar al-Muqrayaf grins. Though he has slept no more than ten hours in the past five days, he is energetically giving orders and greeting locals asking him to solve minor problems. "We came to protect the people here," he mumbles as a subordinate hands him a satellite phone. "Anything we can do to alleviate the problems in Tripoli, that is our task." His adjutant Fawzi Bin Hamid concurs. "We have a mission here and we won't stop until it is complete."

After gobbling down a few morsels of meat and picking at some chickpeas, Bwisir picks up his Kalashnikov and heads out into the courtyard of the school. A group of young men surround him, asking if the bomb sapper who moonlights as a guitar player could put on a short concert for the neighborhood. "Maybe tomorrow," he replies as his fans frown. "Now I have to go out and get more Gaddafi brigades."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

NTC Chairman's Speech to the people of Tripoli

Friday, August 19, 2011

The End ?

A lot of good news in the last few days; but today seems to have had the biggest share so far of good news and martyrs ( lost the relatives of three friends in one day in Zliten, Gherian and Brega ). The rebels have freed Zawiya, Zliten, Gherian and Brega and are now, reportedly, rising from inside of Tripoli. Not only that; but it seems that some of our brave special forces ( two battalions of 350 each ) who have been under training in Urban warfare from the beginning of the revolution have landed into Tripoli by Sea.
Let's pray that this revolution will end without any further deaths and destruction to our capital and it's population; we have lost enough people as it is!