The takeover of Moammar Gadhaffi’s residential compound in Tripoli represents a significant achievement for Libyan rebels, said a scholar with the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
“The compound was a very large complex,” says Wayne White, who previously served as the State Department’s Middle East intelligence official. “There were at one time substantial defenders inside it and (it) also contained an arsenal of communications. So liberating it was very important and has national symbolic significance,” he said.
But White cautioned that a lot more remains to be done.
“There’s some heavy fighting going on,” he said. “The area adjacent to that complex has not been liberated, and there’s a large prison there where prisoners who supported ‘the Awakening’ may be held, so there’s a hard fight awaiting the rebels.”
Their mission will not be complete until the Libyan leader is captured, said White. But he added that there are still areas in the country where Mr. Ghadaffi may take refuge and engage in military action.
“I presume he and a number of his senior officials already may well be outside of Tripoli and…taking shelter,” he said.
Establishing law and order is an immediate concern for the rebels, White said, adding that their brief record is encouraging.
“So far, we have seen a very good sense of law and order both in the east that’s been under the TNC (Transitional National Council) and in Tripoli, where neighborhood watch groups are out and there’s only been scattered looting.”
The Middle East scholar said the rebels should maintain law and order among their own forces. “Instead of having about 80 percent of their forces celebrating, they need to better organize their forces and go after real targets,” he said.
The rebels are capable of establishing law and order with minimal foreign assistance, White said.
“What they’ll need very badly is a lot of foreign technical assistance to restore the oil and other key infrastructures.”
He said Libya is deficient in that kind of technology and depends heavily on outside help.
The rebels comprise a “rainbow coalition” of groups with divergent views, said White, and rebels from the east and the west have different levels of achievement.
“The eastern council has been unable to press beyond Brega for months to the west, whereas in the west, with very little support (other than NATO,) the rebels gathered themselves and ultimately liberated Tripoli.”
White predicts a likely scenario once things are settled: “an east-west rivalry for power and representation.”