Gadhafi's fate in hands of mercenary force said to number more than 20,000

Tuesday, March 1, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

CAIRO The survival of the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi appears to be based on the performance of its tens of thousands of mercenaries.

Opposition sources said Gadhafi has retained between 20,000 and 30,000 mercenaries for his security forces.

The sources said most of the foreigners came from nearby African states with trainers provided by countries that range from Belarus to Ukraine.

"Over the years, Gadhafi stopped trusting his military and then all Libyans, and so his mercenary force just got bigger and bigger," an opposition source said.

The sources said most of the mercenary force was still believed to be loyal to the regime. They said the most powerful component of the force stemmed from the Tuareg tribe in northern Mali.

"These are people who will do anything for money, and they are expected to remain with him until the end," the source said.

The sources said other mercenaries were brought in from Niger and helped form the so-called Islamic Legion in the 1970s. They said Gadhafi has been flying in additional African fighters over the last week to protect Tripoli.

"Right now, the mercenaries are no longer operating outside of Tripoli," the source said. "Those who were either were ordered back to the capital or simply ran away."

The sources said the mercenaries were largely responsible for the killing of Libyan civilians around Tripoli. But they said the Gadhafi regime was shrinking and was not believed to be in control of no more than four military camps in the capital.

"Tripoli is days away from falling," a senior Libyan defector said.

For its part, the Gadhafi regime has insisted that it controls Tripoli and the surrounding area. On Feb. 27, the regime organized a tour of Zawiya, some 50 kilometers west of Tripoli. The city of 200,000 has been under opposition control with pro-Gadhafi forces deploying on the outskirts.

"The whole south is calm," Gadhafi's son, Seif Al Islam, told U.S. television. "The west is calm. The middle is calm. Even part of the east."

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