The six-months-long military stalemate between the 42-year regime of Libyan despot Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the imperialist-backed forces of the Benghazi-based National Transition Council was broken by the rapid advance of the NTC forces into Tripoli last month. The NTC’s military successes were overwhelmingly due to the bombing campaign conducted by the air forces of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
As Derek Flood, an analyst with the US Jamestown Foundation think-tank, told CNN on August 19 after having spent several weeks in western Libya: “I found the rebels had become almost overly dependent on NATO to the point they wouldn’t act without NATO actually softening up the targets first”.
On August 21, NATO announced that since March 19 it had conducted a total of 7505 strike sorties against Libyan targets. The American Broadcasting Company reported on August 22 that the Pentagon had stated that it alone had spent at least US$896 million through July 31 on military operations in its war against the Gaddafi regime.
The August 21 New York Times reported: “NATO’s targeting grew increasingly precise, one senior NATO diplomat said, as the United States established around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces. At the same time, Britain, France and other nations deployed special forces on the ground inside Libya to help train and arm the rebels, the diplomat and another official said.”
NATO ground troops
The British Independent reported on August 23 that the advance on Tripoli of NTC forces based in the western Nafusa Mountains had been prepared by “an army of diplomats, spooks, military advisers and former members of the special forces”, adding that “groups of former special forces operatives, many with British accents, working for private security firms … have been seen regularly by reporters in the vanguard of the rebels’ haphazard journey from Benghazi toward Tripoli”.
The same Independent article also reported: “... the UK mission to Benghazi is now the second largest in North Africa. Diplomats have been engaged in drawing up a blueprint for a post-Gaddafi Libya, including humanitarian aid, help with policing, governance and reform of the military. The prize of being seen as a ‘friend’ in a stable, oil-rich Libya is considerable.”
The August 23 British Guardian reported that “British and NATO military commanders” – rather than NTC commanders – “are planning what they hope will be a final onslaught on Colonel Gaddafi’s forces to put an end to all resistance from troops loyal to the Libyan leader.” CNN, citing NATO sources, reported August 23: “Special forces from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar on the ground in Libya have stepped up operations in Tripoli and other cities in recent days to help rebel forces as they conducted their final advance on the Gaddafi regime”.
The August 22 New York Times reported: “The cumulative effect [of NATO’s coordinated air and ground operation] not only destroyed Libya’s military infrastructure but also greatly diminished the ability of Colonel Gaddafi’s commanders to control forces, leaving even committed fighting units unable to move, resupply or coordinate operations.“ The same day’s NY Times business section reported: “The fighting is not yet over in Tripoli, but the scramble to secure access to Libya’s oil wealth has already begun … Western nations – especially the NATO countries that provided crucial air support to the rebels – want to make sure their companies are in prime position to pump the Libyan crude …
“Eni, with BP of Britain, Total of France, Repsol YPF of Spain and OMV of Austria, were all big producers in Libya before the fighting broke out, and they stand to gain the most once the conflict ends …
“Colonel Qaddafi proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands. A new government with close ties to NATO may be an easier partner for Western nations to deal with. Some experts say that given a free hand, oil companies could find considerably more oil in Libya than they were able to locate under the restrictions placed by the Qaddafi government.”
Wikileaks’ released State Department cables between 2007 and 2010 show that US and other Western oil companies were condemning Gaddafi for what they called “resource nationalism”. Gaddafi had even threatened to re-nationalise Western oil companies’ property unless Libya was granted a larger share of the revenue from their projects.
The NATO powers targeted the Libyan government for “regime change” not because they were concerned about protecting civilians or to bring about a more democratic form of governance in Libya, but because they wanted to replace the Gaddafi regime with a more reliably pro-imperialist government. The beginning of the armed revolt on February 23 by disaffected members of the Libyan military and political establishment provided NATO with the desired opportunity.
Of course, in the revolt were workers and young people who had many legitimate grievances against Gaddafi’s despotic government. But what is critical in an armed struggle for state power is not the composition of the rank-and-file soldiers, but the class character and political orientation of the leadership.
Character of the National Transition Council
The NTC constituted itself as the leadership of the uprising in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, on February 27. Its central leader is Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, who was Gaddafi’s minister of justice until his defection at the start of the uprising. He was one of a significant number of Western-oriented officials from Libya’s government, diplomatic corps and military ranks who joined the opposition in the days immediately after the start of the revolt.
As soon as it was established, the NTC began issuing calls for imperialist military intervention under the cover of a UN-imposed “no-fly” zone. These appeals became increasingly panicky as it became clear that, contrary to early predictions that the Gaddafi regime would collapse in a matter of days, it was the NTC forces that faced imminent defeat. In fact, it was only due to the NATO bombing campaign that the rebellion did not collapse.
The last five months of war have erased any doubt about the pro-imperialist character of the NTC. One striking episode took place on April 22, when US Senator John McCain made a “surprise” trip to Benghazi. A huge banner was unveiled to greet him with an American flag printed on it and the words: “United States of America – You have a new ally in North Africa.”
This was reinforced by a statement made to Reuters Insider TV late on August 23 by Ahmed Jehani, the head of the NTC’s reconstruction effort. Jehani declared that all the oil contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime with the Western oil companies were regarded by the NTC as “absolutely sacrosanct”.