Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces retreated from this strategic city on Saturday, running for dozens of miles back along the coast in the first significant advance for Libyan rebels since American and European airstrikes began a week ago.
The rebel victory was the first sign that the allied attacks, directed not only against Colonel Qaddafi’s aircraft and defenses but also against his ground troops, were changing the dynamics of the battle for control of the country. As night fell, rebel forces had not only recaptured Ajdabiya, a crucial hub city in eastern Libya, but had also driven almost uncontested to the town of Brega, erasing weeks of loss as the airstrikes opened the way.
Three ways in which this is positive:
- As momentum shifts away from Gaddafi and towards the rebels, there may be more defections. I say “may” because the least loyal layers have been peeled away, and remaining Loyalist forces may fear rebel reprisal. But nevertheless, as the scales tip against Gaddafi there’s still some hope that his regime may collapse.
- If this war ends in partition rather than in rebel victory, it’s helpful that larger swaths of the country end up under rebel control. Although there are still substantial question about the rebel’s plans for Libya, there is at least the hope that they’ll try to build a liberal system of governance.
- It may indicate that the balance between Loyalist vs. rebel plus coalition forces favors the latter more than I had hoped. To be sure, there are still reasons to be skeptical of the rebel’s ability to win the war militarily, but the capture of Ajdabiya is a positive sign.