The Libyan opposition forces and government troops, unable to achieve substantive strategic gains, are locked in a string of battles across Libya
The Libyan opposition forces and government troops, unable to achieve substantive strategic gains, are locked in a string of battles across Libya amid growing uncertainty about the scale and direction of air power that Western forces are likely to deploy in the country in the coming hours.
With the threat of a takeover of Benghazi by government forces removed after Western air strikes earlier blew up the regime's tanks and heavy weapons near the city, Ajdabiyah, a strategically located city 160 km from Benghazi, has become the new frontline.
There have been air-strikes on regime targets in Ajdabiyah by Western aircraft on Tuesday but it is unlikely that their impact has been decisive. Despite the bombardment, on Tuesday forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi fired their heavy weapons, including the devastating truck mounted multi-barrel rockets, with intensity in the direction of opposition forces, stalling their advance.
Both sides have high stakes over control of Ajdabiyah. For the opposition, a permanent loss of Ajdabiyah would open the door for the regime's rapid advance towards two vital locations — Benghazi and Tobruk. Benghazi is only a 90-minute drive from Ajdabiyah, while another road from the city opens directly into Tobruk, only around 150 km from the Egyptian border. Control by the government forces over Tobruk, a famous battlefield of the World War II era, will cut-off Benghazi, the epicentre of the revolt, from Egypt, a vital opposition supply base.
The pro-Qadhafi forces, prizing their country's oil, are also equally desperate to cement their hold over Ajdabiyah. Once entrenched, the city could well become the regime's springboard for an advance over Libya's oil heartland, with oil cities of Brega and Ras Lanuf not far away.
On Tuesday, the opposition forces appear to have recorded a significant success in the city of Zintan, 106 km south of Tripoli. Al Jazeera is reporting that anti-Qadhafi forces have succeeded in breaking the regime's siege around the city. Heavy fighting has also been reported from Misrata, Libya's third largest city, only 200 km east of Tripoli. However, in a possible setback to the anti-Qadhafi forces, there has been growing opposition across the globe against the possible use of air power that can cause “regime change”, especially after Baab Aziziya, Mr. Qadhafi's residential compound was attacked on Sunday night. There are also fears that “regime change” can be accomplished if Western powers provide coordinated fire power from the air to anti-Qadhafi combatants.
Faced with the mounting protests, the United States has signalled that air attacks in Libya were likely to become less intense. “My sense is that — that unless something unusual or unexpected happens, we may see a decline in the frequency of attacks,” said General Carter Ham during an interaction with the media in Washington.
However, the Baab Aziziya compound in Tripoli appeared to have been attacked for a second time overnight. Western forces also targeted two naval installations just outside the city, apparently to degrade the regime's ability to launch sea-borne attacks, similar to the ones it had undertaken earlier to attack the refinery town of Ras Lanuf.