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Tuesday, September 13, 2011     GET REAL

Intelligence: Libya rebels underestimating
Gadhafi's still-formidable force

CAIRO — Col. Moammar Gadhafi still retains considerable military capabilities despite his flight from Libya's capital.


Western intelligence sources said Gadhafi controls at least 5,000 fighters in several cities of Libya, including Sirte. They said the forces remained heavily armed, including surface-to-surface rockets, mortars and anti-tank missiles, and capable of defending their positions against any rebel onslaught.

"By themselves, the rebels don't have the power yet to take out Gadhafi," a Western intelligence source said. "They will need considerable air and ground support to change the balance."

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[On Sept. 12, Gadhafi forces killed 17 security guards outside an oil refinery taken over by the rebels. Gadhafi operatives were said to have fired automatic weapons and hurled grenades in an effort to destroy the refinery, located 20 kilometers from Ras Lanouf.]

The sources said the National Transitional Council (NTC) has underestimated Gadhafi's current military strength by up to 10-fold. They said NTC, which captured Tripoli without a fight, assessed that Gadhafi had only several hundred fighters while actually he controlled several thousand.

NTC has acknowledged underestimating Gadhafi's forces. NTC said Gadhafi deployed at least 1,000 fighters in the southern town of Bani Walid, at sharp variance from an earlier assessment of between 100 and 150 troops. As a result, rebel forces, despite NATO air strikes, were forced to withdraw from Bani Walid on Sept. 10.

The sources said Gadhafi has maintained the loyalty of both foreign mercenaries as well as tribal members. They said the colonel appeared to have sufficient finances and weapons to keep fighting while the rebels continued to be divided.

"When our forces entered Bani Walid they found the brigades of Gadhafi using citizens as shields," NTC military spokesman Ahmed Bani said.

The sources said the rebels also remain divided and have been infiltrated by Gadhafi loyalists. They said military commanders have often refused to cooperate in the field or even share information.

"There are intensive efforts by NATO to get these [rebels] people together to finally end this thing," the Western source said. "But it is very difficult and each success intensifies the rivalry between them."

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