Hundreds of US, British and French military advisers have arrived in Cyrenaica, Libya’s eastern breakaway province, DEBKAfile’s military sources report exclusively. This is the first time America and Europe have intervened militarily in any of the popular upheavals rolling through the Middle East since Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution in early January. The advisers, including intelligence officers, were dropped from warships and missile boats at the coastal towns of Benghazi and Tobruk Thursday Feb. 24, for a threefold mission:
1. To help the revolutionary committees controlling eastern Libyan establish government frameworks for supplying two million inhabitants with basic services and commodities;
2. To organize them into paramilitary units, teach them how to use the weapons they captured from Libyan army facilities, help them restore law and order on the streets and train them to fight Muammar Qaddafi’s combat units coming to retake Cyrenaica.
3. To prepare infrastructure for the intake of additional foreign troops. Egyptian units are among those under consideration.
Qaddafi was shaken up badly Friday, Feb. 25, when many of his air force commanders decided to no longer obey his orders or those of his commanders, DEBKAfile’s exclusive military sources report. This loss deprived him at one stroke of one of the key pillars sustaining his fight for survival against the opposition since Sunday, Feb. 20. It means he is short of an essential resource for recapturing the eastern half of the country where half of Libya’s oil wealth and its main oil export terminals are situated.
Friday, NATO Council and the UN Security Council meet in separate emergency sessions to consider ways to halt the bloodletting in Libya and punish its ruler Qaddafi for his violent crackdown of protesters.
DEBKAfile reported on Feb. 22: The 22,000-strong Libyan Air Force with its 13 bases is Muammar Qaddafi’s mainstay for survival against massive popular and international dissent. The 44 air transports and a like number of helicopters swiftly lifted loyal tribal militiamen fully armed from the Sahara and dropped them in the streets of Tripoli Monday Feb. 21.
Thursday Qaddafi launched an offensive to wrest the coastal towns around Tripoli from rebel hands. Our military sources report that tanks pounded opposition positions in the towns of Misrata, 25 km to the east of Tripoli and Zawiya, 30 km west of the capital, under the command of Gen. Khweldi Hamidi, a Qaddafi kinsman.
In a bloody battle, the insurgents ousted Qaddafi’s forces from Misrata, but his troops broke through to Zawiya and captured the town at great loss of life. There are no reliable casualty figures but hundreds are believed to have been killed Thursday on both sides.
Later that day, the insurgents of Cyrenaica announced they were firmly in control of the region including Libya’s main export oil terminal in Benghazi, the country’s second largest town. Whether or not they decide to block the fuel supplies coming from Qaddafi-ruled areas, their seizure of the facility alone was enough to send oil prices shooting up again on world markets.
Thursday night, Brent crude went for $117 the barrel in London and $103 in New York.
In a 30-minute telephone interview Thursday night, Qaddafi again charged that Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood had instigated the protest uprising in Libya. He warned that the fall of Cyrenaica would open Libya to the establishment of a Muslim jihadi and radical rear base for attacks on Europe and incursions into Egypt.