So, here is where we are:
- Rebel forces have been unable to hold the ground that they recently captured (perhaps traversed is a better term) and have retreated back to Adjadibya. Logistics play a major role in the problems of both Loyalist and rebel forces, because supply lines lengthen as either advances. The Loyalists seem to have somewhat better logistics, but they have more onerous requirements because of their heavy weaponry, and they’re suffering from airstrikes all along their lines. As many have suggested, this is a recipe for stalemate.
- The US and the UK (and probably France as well) are trying to break the stalemate through the deployment of CIA, SAS, and MI6 operatives. In addition to carrying out political work (vetting rebels, probing Loyalist forces for defectors), these operatives will be playing a military role in any rebel advance. SOF will analyze Loyalist positions, identify vulnerabilities, illuminate targets, and coordinate rebel attacks with airstrikes. This is the “Afghan Model,” and could be very effective against Loyalist forces. Variables include the intensity of air attacks, the number of SOF, and the quality of rebel forces. But yes, this does represent an escalation of UK/US/French involvement.
- The next big political and military problem seems to me to be Sirte. Rebels, assisted by air attacks, made absolutely no headway when they reached it last week. With Western SOF assistance they might have a better chance. Taking Sirte wouldn’t resolve logistical problems, but it might crack open the entire Loyalist defense and demoralize Gaddafi’s supporters. However, it appears from casual observation that the people of Sirte don’t feel that they need Western “protection” from the Gaddafi regime, and aren’t enthusiastic about the rebellion. This poses some very serious question for NATO (which is now in command) if and when they rebels seize the city. A bloody purge of Loyalists is not out of the question, and Western SOF may find themselves shifting very quickly between attack and restraint missions.
Altogether, I’d say that the situation is less hopeful than it was a few days ago. In my view, partition and Western escalation remain the only two plausible options (arming the rebels is unlikely to have a near term effect on their capabilities), and neither of those are particularly good outcomes.