by Franklin Lamb
Tripoli port area, Aug. 23 – This observer’s tentative appraisal of Tuesday’s events along the North Tripoli port area as of late afternoon Aug. 23 is that the “65,000 well trained and well armed troops” hyped Sunday by the Qaddafi government don’t in fact exist and that the pockets of government troops here in Tripoli and across Libya that do will continue to resist what it views as NATO aggression – designed to usurp the country’s oil and add Libya to Africom.
NATO is widely viewed as having violated the three main terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 (UNSCR 1973), to wit, NATO did engage in regime change, it did take sides in a civil war, it did arm one side and it did refuse to allow a negotiated diplomatic settlement which many here and internationally believe could have been achieved by early April, thus saving hundreds of Libyan lives. NATO’s more than 160 days of bombing are seen as egregious violations of UNSCR 1973, Article 2 (7) of the U.N. Charter and numerous provisions of international law – all part of its campaign to secure Libyan oil and this rich countries geopolitical cooperation for the U.S., U.K., France, Italy and their NATO allies.
I am advised that some Qaddafi loyalists are headed to the colonel’s hometown of Serte to prepare to defend it. Some of my reasons for these tentative conclusions include the no-show government troops, the intensifying NATO bombings of Tripoli – which is the only reason the rebels have not negotiated an end to this conflict last April – and my tentative conclusion that there is no reason for massive numbers of government troops, if they existed, not to challenge the increasing numbers of NATO rebels who appear to be sitting ducks as they tool around Tripoli’s troops.
According to journalists who arrived at this hotel yesterday from the west, south and east, there appear to be no government forces moving toward Tripoli to join in an Alamo type last stand battle. Obviously, I could be very mistaken but subject to correction, I expect a “rebel victory” – without defining that term – late this week.
During the early afternoon of Aug. 23, power and internet were cut from our hotel and again the sealed windowed rooms heated up fast and had to be essentially vacated unless one stayed in the bathtub filled with tepid tap water. We currently have no local or international phone service or information from outside Libya or any knowledge of what is being reported internationally about Libya.
On Monday night, Aug. 22, 2011, this observer met with Saif al Islam. He was not captured and he is not dead – at least not as of 11 p.m., Aug. 22, or roughly 24 hours after the National Transitional Council and the International Criminal Court claim he was captured and was being prepared for transport to The Hague. Saif was defiant and he gave assurances that his family was safe and that NATO would be defeated politically for its crimes against Libyan civilians.
Saif took a Western camera man and a reporter on a short tour of Tripoli, showing them that NATO was not in control – not 95 percent in control of Tripoli as the NTC representative in London has been claiming since Sunday night and not 80 percent in control of Tripoli as the White House and NATO’s “Operation Protect the Libyan Civilians” CEO Rasmussen has claimed.
But the rebels do appear to currently control large swaths of Libya’s capital. A journalist named “Kim” S. from the U.K. Independent, who has been with the rebels for the past two months-plus and who seemed to literally sort of stumble into our hotel yesterday, told me this morning that NTC claims made during the period he was with them were “complete bullshit.”
Saif, Col. Qaddafi’s onetime heir apparent, was in good spirits and exuded confidence. In conversation with one Yankee who knew Saif had earned his PhD at the London School of Economics – contrary to media reports last spring that Saif bought his PhD from LSE – he claims that it’s not true and that he in fact worked hard for nearly three years researching and writing his doctoral dissertation on community development. He was offended by reports that he did not.
I tend to believe him because I found the LSE academically tough and my advisor, Professor David Johnson, and his Thesis Examination Committee trio, to my chagrin, went over my dissertation, “Pollution as a Problem of International Law,” for nearly three hours, paragraph by paragraph, during my oral thesis defense, more than two decades ago. I am thinking and assuming that LSE has not lowered its academic standards since the days of Harold Laski and David Johnson.
My new “office” is located in the outside patio area above the swimming pool and gardens of the “seven star” Corinthia hotel – wonderful sea view overlooking the Tripoli harbor to the north and the old city of Tripoli to the south. When a bomb hits or sustained gunfire erupts, the office quickly moves just inside the glassed-in restaurant, which features the ONLY “hot” electric plug among the more than 6,000 currently dead ones in this hotel. Nobody knows when the hotel generator will crash, ending the last of the wattage here and exhausting laptop and mobile phone batteries.
The inside of the hotel is sweltering, having had no air conditioning for more than 48 hours. Wanting some fresh air, I prop open a door to the former Japanese sushi bar on the outside patio, but Miss Lorraine, the hotel manager, scolds me. “You bloody American,” she seethed at me yesterday. “First your bloody government brings NATO to bomb us to pieces and now you fill my hotel with birds! Damn all of you!”
It’s true that Lorraine sometimes gets a little upset when a bomb goes off and some of the birds from the hotel garden fly into the hotel’s two-level grand lobby, complete with lots of plants and palm trees where the poor frightened birds seek safety. They seem to like it inside our hotel.
Concerning the outdoor hotel garden, for some reason the garden lights are always on – last night the only ones in all of north Tripoli that I could see – and the garden fountains continue pumping which of course uses up quite valuable generator fuel oil. Lorraine laments: “As you know, Mr. Lamb, the staff has abandoned me and I don’t know where the switch is. I would be ever so grateful if you could find it – I think it’s out there in the garden somewhere – and turn it off. Really I would!” Well, I did find the switch, turned off the fountains and the garden lights and Lorraine suddenly likes me again. Would that all women were so easy to please.
Yesterday, one of the few staff people around here offered me the leader’s framed picture – way too big to transport – and a green flag that had been removed from outside the hotel’s main entrance. Miss Lorraine became distressed because she thought if I was caught with a green flag, I could be in trouble. So as not to cause her more stress, I declined with the knowledge that I already have a few packed away as gifts for friends.
The green flags and the gold frame picture of Qaddafi that were removed two nights ago suddenly returned overnight. There had been a heated discussion by remaining senior hotel management staff – numbering two, it appears – about the wisdom of removing them. For now they are back where they were.
9:25 a.m. Two NATO bombs blast nearby. Three “security guys” resting on a lobby couch run outside to see what happened. More birds come in and I again move my table away from the patio door.
9:43 a.m. Anti-aircraft gunfire hits the side of the hotel, chipping the concrete siding near the garden entrance so I move one flight downstairs to the lobby.
10:20 a.m. A very long convoy of 237 rebel pickups, some with mounted anti-aircraft guns and filled with young fighters with RPGs and AK-47s and heavier guns, pass within 100 yards of me and the hotel balcony above the swimming pool and the seaside road, driving east along the sea front. They passed in front of the Marriott and Bab al Bahar – “gate to the sea” – hotel complex of five tall buildings, apparently unaware that yesterday, at about the same time, 22 truckloads of government troops turned right into that same complex and at least some of them went underground.
Last night, there was gunfire from the government troop location but as of this moment, the government troops are undiscovered – if they did not redeploy overnight – and did not fire on the passing rebel convoy, although the rebels’ slow-moving convoy must have presented an attractive target. Again, one wonders if the government’s troops are laying an elaborate trap for their enemies or if they have decided to sit out this phase and wait to learn whether Qaddafi’s regime can hang on – or if they even exist in significant numbers.
Three “battle-hardened journalists” who just arrived at this hotel are debating if the rebel’s convoy was in retreat or was advancing. My own two cents worth is that they were advancing toward the Bab al Azizya –“splendid gate” – Qaddafi barracks which, as of this morning, NATO has bombed a reported 144 times.
I base my view on the serious looks on the rebels’ faces, their evident adrenalin, the fact that their advance is slow and fairly ordered, including five ambulances bringing up the rear, and the fact that some of them seem to be checking their weapons and ammunition belts as if preparing for a firefight. Some fighters eye us sternly, seemingly unsure whether we are friend or foe. We wave at them and some wave back. However, moments later, we hear gunfire from our rear and it appears that someone is firing at us thinking we are supporting the rebels. Kim and I duck into the hotel foyer but he goes back out.
10:40 a.m. Heavy gunfire is heard from the direction of Bab al Azizya Qaddafi barracks.
10:55 a.m. Twenty minutes of heavy small arms and mortar rounds erupt and appear to be fired toward Qaddafi’s compound. Maybe it is from the rebels’ convoy that just passed, but the three battle-hardened journalists, including the U.K. Independent’s Kim – whom I have joined up with for the time being – are debating the subject. Very close AK-47 gunfire. We come back inside.
12:35 p.m. Two “rebel representatives” arrived at the main entrance of our hotel and caused a stir inside the lobby at the front desk. This hotel has zero security now, the last two uniformed security guys left early yesterday. The two “rebel” guys offered protection for the handful of us here. There was shouting as the front desk guys refused their offer. Eventually, the “rebels” left.
The hotel guys said the visitors were indeed local rebel “criminals” and that they had come to loot the hotel and not to protect it. However, there are exactly eight rooms currently being occupied and one of the journalist’s claims that he was already robbed on route from Zawiyah yesterday, just in front of the hotel. His laptop and his cash were stolen. Front desk hotel staff claim that today, the “rebels” stole one car, tried but failed to hot wire two others and stole 10 computers from the hotel office. They also reportedly set up a rebel checkpoint at Gate Two outside our hotel and replaced the green flags with rebel tricolors. I declined to go check.
The AP’s man, Martin, who also arrived yesterday, just told me that the rebels now control the North Tripoli port area where our hotel is situated. My thoughts move to the 22 truckloads of government fighters who I saw disappear yesterday morning among the seaside hotels near our hotel. Meanwhile, the U.K. Independent’s man Kim reported that visas are no longer required to enter Libya from Tunisia.
12:50 p.m. A shorter convoy of 47 rebel vehicles passed the hotel – maybe part of the earlier group on a victory lap or just patrolling and flaunting their control or perhaps it was a new group. They did not appear in a hurry or very anxious. We photographed them without their objection as they waved and drove into West Tripoli.
1:30 p.m. Three rockets hit near what appears to be Bab al Azizya. Heavy gunfire and two more rockets or mortars follow. AP’s Martin and the Independent’s Kim go out to look. Two more mortars appear to hit in the direction of Bab al Azizya. Kim reported that for some reason, no one seems to need a visa to enter now from Jerba, Tunisia, and he also thinks that perhaps the Qaddafi regime may have set a trap and will close it when his forces see the whites of rebels’ eyes.
One rebel media representative, who re-defected back to the Qaddafi regime from the rebels, is being interviewed by a journalist this afternoon. He told us that the NATO office in Naples is writing or vetting all NTC communications and that they have on their staff Israel Defense Ministry of Information psych-warfare specialists, who are producing “panic causing leaflets and mobile phone messages” as well as putting out false claims at key moments for maximum impact on international and local public opinion.
This observer is not sure if NATO recalls how, during the July 2006 war in Lebanon, Hezbollah took IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and U.S. Israeli lobby psych-war propaganda and wrapped it around Israel’s neck during the 33-day war. However, it appears from here that the West is gobbling up the fake NTC (NATO) “media advisories” being regurgitated by “Libya experts” interviewed ad nausea on CNN, BCC, FOX and other mainstream media outlets who pontificate about the NTC’s democrats’ stunning achievement.
The above noted interviewee also claims that he heard rumors that NATO has dropped hit teams to control the messages coming from non-MSM reporters who depict NATO and rebel activities in a negative light. Time may tell.
4:14 p.m. It appears that the hotel generator crashed, so there is currently no power whatsoever at the hotel including no elevator. I am not relishing the 18-floor hike up to my room especially given my throbbing right leg.
6:15 p.m. The young man who let me borrow his bicycle rushed into the Corinthia hotel to tell us that Qaddafi’s compound at Bab al Azizya had been taken by “NATO rebel” forces, following a nearly nine-hour battle. A high ranking Qaddafi official advised me last night that he expected Qaddafi’s compound would be taken and that the colonel will not be easy to locate and will continue to galvanize a counter-revolution in the coming days. He also told me that during the night of Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011, Qaddafi issued orders for his troops and supporters not to bomb and fire tanks inside Tripoli for fear of killing civilians and destroying civilian houses.
Franklin Lamb, author of “The Price We Pay: A Quarter-Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons Against Civilians in Lebanon,” is doing research in Libya. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He asks readers to sign the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html.