The first signs of unrest in Libya erupted in the form of violent protests in mid-February. After seizing weapons and military equipment from Libyan soldiers, the protesters quickly became full-fledged rebels.
In a series of quick victories, the rebels raced toward the Libyan capital from their stronghold in the eastern city of Benghazi. It seemed that the four-decade rule of President Moammar Gadhafi was coming to a violent end at the hands of his own oppressed civilians.
Wild rumours circulated in the media, and the British Foreign Ministry erroneously reported that Gadhafi had fled Libya and was seeking refuge in Venezuela. Even as his key ministers quit the regime and air force pilots defected to Malta rather than fly missions against the rebels, Libyan leader Gadhafi somehow managed to turn the tide in his favour.
Those military forces and tribal fighters still loyal to him turned back the rebel column at the city of Sirte. Although the Libyan military would be considered fourth-rate at best, their modicum of discipline and superiority in heavy weapons soon put the rebels into a headlong rout all the way back to Benghazi.
But then Gadhafi committed the strategic error of promising vengeance upon those who had taken up arms and vowed to kill him. His threat of reprisals against the citizens of Benghazi prompted the UN Security Council to approve Resolution 1979, authorizing a “no-fly zone” over Libyan skies. The intent was to prevent Gadhafi from using his air force to punish innocent citizens. The ink on the UN resolution was still damp when NATO eagerly accepted command and control of its enforcement.
Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard was appointed the missionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s commander and almost immediately the mandate morphed into full-fledged military support of the rebels with airstrikes against Gadhafi loyalists. That was over 145 days ago and despite the unchallenged might of NATOÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s air armada, not to mention BouchardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s leadership, Gadhafi remains firmly in power.
Canada and the other key NATO belligerents, such as France and the U.K., have formally recognized the rebel leadership in Benghazi as the official representatives of Libya, even through they control just a small holding in eastern Libya.
Despite the influx of modern weaponry and foreign advisers, it is widely understood that without continued NATO air protection, Gadhafi loyalist forces would quickly eliminate the Benghazi pocket.
That said, last week NATO and rebel spokespersons were trumpeting a limited gain against Gadhafi forces in the city of Brega. Although the initial claim that they had seized the port city proved a little premature, it still seemed that the rebels had made advances and possibly even surrounded Brega.
Foreign observers noted that the rebels now possess modern heavy weapons, not just old Soviet machine-guns wired onto the back of battered old pickup trucks like weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen previously.
The assault on Brega was also a combined arms effort involving both land and seaborne attacking forces, complete with NATO air support. The complexity of such an attack would indicate that the rebels are operating with the close supervision of NATO advisers or mentors.
Brega is strategically vital because its port facilities are the export terminals for a large percentage of LibyaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oil exports. Geographically, the majority of LibyaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oil fields are located on the east and are already under rebel control. However, with Gadhafi loyalists in charge of Brega, the tap has been shut off.
The capture of Brega Ã¢â‚¬â€ provided GadhafiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s forces donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t destroy the port facilities first Ã¢â‚¬â€ will allow the rebels to start pumping oil. Those oil exports could pay for the heavy weapons and munitions that NATO has extended to them on credit.
This will no doubt come as a shock to those who thought our intervention in Libya was about human rights and democracy. Seems itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s about arms sales and oil.
Not a very proud moment in Canadian history.