Source Link: Stratfor
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Coalition attacks against Libyan military assets intensified the night of March 26-27. British Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft launched Brimstone missiles (derived from the U.S. AGM-114 Hellfire), destroying three armored vehicles in Misurata and two armored vehicles in Ajdabiya. Twenty French fighters supported by Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) struck five Galeb fighter jets and two MI-35 helicopters at a Libyan base just outside Misurata while personnel were reportedly preparing them for individual deployment. An ammunition dump was reportedly hit in Misurata and airstrikes were reported in Sabha, Sirta, and Marsa el Brega as well. Tomahawk cruise missiles were reportedly launched from the USS Stout (DDG 55) against targets in Libya, though the targets were not identified.
Libyan government spokesperson Mussa Ibrahim said “many” civilians and military personnel have lost their lives in the allied effort, while U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of placing bodies of people killed by his forces at the sites of allied airstrikes. Meanwhile, British Secretary of Defense Liam Fox ruled out supplying arms to the rebels, despite reports of such a matter being considered.
But more notable than the activity of the coalition air campaign the evening of March 26 and into March 27 has been the advance of rebel forces, particularly on March 27. As of the morning of March 26, Gadhafi’s forces had reportedly been pushed to the western edge of Ajdabiya where their position was becoming untenable — though not necessarily due to rebel military action so much as to airstrikes by coalition aircraft and the vulnerability of their lines of supply. Gadhafi’s forces now appear to be falling back, perhaps as far as Sirte, the Libyan leader’s hometown and a loyalist stronghold.
Rebel forces are advancing to Raf Lanuf, with BBC reporting Mar. 27 that the front line had moved to the town of Bin Jawad, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Ras Lanuf. This drive westward is noteworthy, and if consolidated, would give the rebels control of all the major energy export infrastructure in the Gulf of Sidra. But by most appearances it seems to have been an advance into territory conceded by Gadhafi rather than the seizing of territory by conquest. Meanwhile, in Misurata, Gadhafi government troops reportedly ceased firing on rebel positions upon the appearance of allied aircraft.
But there are considerable caveats to this appearance of progress. Gadhafi’s positions in the east were increasingly untenable as coalition airpower ravaged his extended supply lines and the combat power of his forces. But deliberately withdrawing to strongholds like Sirte is a very different than being forced to retreat by advancing rebels. As the rebels move westward, they, rather than Gadhafi, will increasingly be operating on extended lines, and the rebels’ logistical capability is rudimentary at best.
At this point, it would appear more as though positions are solidifying around geographic and political realities rather than by military force. The difficulty of attacking Gadhafi’s forces in well-fortified areas and true strongholds remains. Gadhafi’s forces and the rebels in the east remain divided by an immense geographic buffer. Any attempt by the rebels to take Sirte will be enormously challenging and will entail risks of overreach and the devastation of their main force in the face of well-defended loyalist positions. But Sirte will be the town to watch moving forward.