Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Battle of Tripoli - August 2011
The battle of Tripoli (Arabic: معركة طرابلس ma‘arikat Ṭarābulus) is an ongoing military confrontation being fought between loyalists of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and National Liberation Army. The battle began on 20 August 2011, six months after the 2011 Libyan civil war started, with an uprising within the city; rebel forces outside the city planned an offensive to link up with elements within Tripoli, and eventually overtake the nation's capital.
The rebels codenamed the assault "Operation Mermaid Dawn" (Arabic: عملية فجر عروسة البحر ‘amaliyyat fajr ‘arūsat el-baḥr). Tripoli's nickname is "The Mermaid" (Arabic: عروسة البحر ‘arūsat el-baḥr) (literally "bride of the sea").
Tripoli was the scene of major clashes and a failed uprising in February 2011. Protesters filled Martyrs' Square (then known as Green Square), and set fire to the People's Hall of the General People's Congress. Fighting was especially fierce in the city's eastern Tajura district, but loyalist forces were able to crush the uprising, with many casualties on both sides.
Further attempts at protests took place over the next few months with little success. Meanwhile, residents stated that a nighttime guerrilla war was taking place in the streets of Tripoli, as armed rebels reportedly controlled many of the smaller streets in rebel-sympathizing districts.
Beginning on 13 August, a Libyan rebel offensive from the Nafusa Mountainsbroke into the Tripolitanian coast; after heavy fighting, the cities of Sorman,Sabratha and Az Zawiyah were taken on the coast, cutting off loyalist forces from the Tunisian border, and isolating their positions in Zuwara – a city that had already rebelled in February, only to have the uprising put down. Meanwhile, a second rebel offensive took the city of Gharyan, the gateway of the Nafusa Mountains, blocking the road between Tripoli and the loyalist city of Sabha in far southern Libya. Further rebel successes threatened to isolate the loyalist stronghold of Sirte, and took the city of Zliten east of Tripoli. The combined result of these offensives isolated loyalist forces in Tripoli, with rebel forces less than 30 kilometres (20 miles) away.
On 20 August, Libyan rebel sources claimed that Muammar Gaddafi had fled to Tunisia with two of his sons, Mutassim and Hannibal; these reports could not be confirmed. Later, Libyan state television broadcast what it claimed a live speech by Gaddafi from within Libya, bringing into question claims that he had fled earlier.
Significance of date
The rebel leadership stated that they selected the date of the assault to be the 20th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, marking the anniversary of the ancient Conquest of Mecca.
Course of the battle
The combined assault on Tripoli was codenamed Operation Mermaid Dawn, and was reportedly coordinated with NATO. According to rebel sources, weapons were smuggled by tugboat into Tripoli during the evening.
Rebel forces within Az Zawiyah fought for control of a strategic bridge on the road to Tripoli, 27 kilometres (17 miles) from the capital. They planned for a major offensive on Tripoli that would take place on the following day.
Uprising within Tripoli
In the evening, the uprising within Tripoli began with broadcasts from the city mosques, with the signal of Iftar (إفطار) – the moment Muslims observing Ramadan break their evening fast. Prominent opposition members confirmed that the rebels had been shipping weapons into Tripoli for several weeks, in preparation for this uprising. The center of the uprising was said to be Ben Nabi Mosque in the city center, when young men gathered there; prayers were cancelled and women sent home, while the men began shouting anti-Gaddafi slogans, using the loudspeakers to broadcast their chants across the city.
Loyalist forces arrived and attempted to assault the mosque, but were driven back by armed residents, taking refuge in the state TV centre nearby. Tripoli residents barricaded their streets and districts with burning tires, joining up with other anti-government opponents. The uprisings quickly spread through Tripoli, notably the neighbourhoods of Fashloum, Souq al-Juma, Tajura and Ben Ashur, and continued throughout the rest of the city. That night, heavy fighting was reported in the neighbourhoods of Suq al Jum'a and Arrada street, while anti-Gaddafi locals closed off the major Alsika street.
During the night, rebels reportedly captured the Tripoli International Airport, as well as a weapons depot inside the capital. Tripoli residents received text messages from the government, asking them to go out onto the street and 'eliminate the armed agents'. Heavy fighting within the capital was confirmed by reporters within the city, who heard explosions and sustained gunfire.
Initially, a governmental spokesman stated that all was safe and well within the city, and that loyalist forces remained in control of Tripoli.Later, he stated that "armed militants" had "escaped into some neighbourhoods", causing "a few scuffles", but the governmental forces "dealt with it within a half hour, and it is now calm."
Rebel forces began advancing east from Az Zawiyah towards Tripoli; they took the town of Jadda'im, east of Zawiya, meeting only light resistance from loyalist forces. Next, the town of Al Mayah just west of Tripoli was taken.
Boats from Misrata and Zliten carrying rebel forces and arms landed in Tripoli on the early morning, joining rebels within the city in the fight.
Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera both reported that fighting continued as of the early morning; many rebels were reported dead in the district of Qadah, while the Mitiga airbase was reportedly surrounded by rebel forces, who attempted to obtain its surrender. The entire Tajura district was captured by rebel forces, while fighting in Suk al-Juma, Araba district and Mitiga airbase continued. Heavy fighting was also reported in the districts of Qadah in western Tripoli, Zawiyat al Dahmania, Fashloum, and Ben Ashur. A rebel representative stated that the operation was "going easily", with the end target being Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound.
A resident speaking to Al Jazeera from Tajoura in Tripoli said that about 450 prisoners in poor health were freed from a military base after locals took control of the area and pushed out Gaddafi forces, who are currently shelling the neighborhood.
By the afternoon, rebels had fully taken control of Tajoura, Suq al-Jumaa, Arada and al-Sabaa neighbourhoods in Tripoli. Fighting was still ongoing in Ben Ashhour, Fashlom, and Zawiyat al-Dahmani neighbourhoods in Tripoli; the rebels also controlled large portions of Fashloum, Zawiyat al-Dahmani, and Mansoura districts. They also took the Tripoli mobile telephony operator.
At 6:04 pm BST, the BBC reported that rebel forces were 12 km west of Tripoli. At 6:39 pm BST, they reported that rebels had entered Tripoli from the west. At 7:02 pm BST, they reported that the rebels have reached the suburb of Janzour and were greeted by civilians.
Rebel forces advancing from Az Zawiyah entered the Janzour suburb of Tripoli during the evening, seemingly facing no resistance as the passed through the western suburbs headed for the city centre, greeted by cheering crowds waving the rebels tricolour flag.
The security brigade of Muhammed Gaddafi surrendered that night, and the main headquarters of the Khamis Brigade in Tripoli had been sacked by rebels.
In a night-time press conference, governmental spokesman Moussa Ibrahim stated that there were an estimated 1,300 killed and 5,000 wounded in the Battle for Tripoli; he blamed the death toll on NATO.
Civilians were reportedly celebrating in the streets of Tripoli as rebel forces entered the city with little resistance. A senior rebel official, Fathi al-Baja, told the Associated Press that one of the reasons for his group's rapid advance was that the commander of a loyalist battalion assigned to defend the city was sympathetic to the rebels since the regime had killed his brother years ago, such that when rebels reached the gates of Tripoli, the battalion promptly surrendered.
Sky News reporter Alex Crawford was widely praised for her live on-scene reporting on the night of the 21st. Crawford traveled with a rebel convoy into the heart of Tripoli, shooting direct live footage of the rebel advances, which reached Green Square with little resistance from pro-Gaddafi forces. She wore a helmet and bulletproof vest, stating that she did not feel in any danger, but wore them as a precaution against celebratory gunfire.
Possible capture of two of Gaddafi's sons
ABC News and Al Jazeera confirmed the fall of Martyr's Square, and stated that the chairman of the National Transitional Council claimed thatSaif al-Islam Gaddafi had been captured in a tourist town in Western Tripoli. The stronghold of Bab al-Aziziya was surrounded according to ABC News. Sky News TV reported that the UK representative to the Libyan National Transitional Council confirmed the capture of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. According to the NTC, Saif will be held safely but securely to await trial. The International Criminal Court confirmed the capture of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and stated that they would be contacting the NTC to make arrangements for him to be handed over, so that he may face trial for crimes against humanity.
Al Jazeera also reported in its video that Muhammad al-Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi's oldest son, had handed himself over to rebel forces.Later, it was reported that he had not voluntarily surrendered himself, and one rebel was killed while capturing him. Al Jazeera confirmed the capture, and interviewed Muhammad; he took an apologetic tone, and blamed the revolution on lack of wisdom. However, Muhammed escaped from house arrest the next day with the aid of loyalist forces.
By 1:00 am Tripoli time, rebels stated that 90 percent of Tripoli had been captured, including Martyrs' Square. Al Jazeera and the BBC, among other news stations, all reported and confirmed that opposition fighters had entered Martyrs' Square in central Tripoli.
At 1:15 Libyan time, the NTC announced that rebels had taken control of Tripoli International Airport to the south of the city.
In the early morning, a major rebel commander stated that there were still pockets of loyalist resistance within Tripoli, and asked police to stay alert at their posts.
In the morning, Agence France-Press reported that fighting was ongoing near the residence of Colonel Gaddafi and in the south of the city. A rebel commander said that the loyalists still controlled 15 to 20 percent of the city. Initially one, then multiple tanks left the Gaddafi residence, and began shelling areas of Tripoli. Heavy fighting continued around the Rixos Al Nasr hotel, which housed foreign journalists in Tripoli and remained a government stronghold. Journalists were not allowed to leave the hotel by government forces and were described as being used as a "human shield".
A column of hundreds of armed rebels carrying rocket launchers headed towards Green Square.
An independent Libyan news channel reported some looting at the expatriate Palm City village, just outside of Tripoli, but this could not be confirmed. Fighting continued around the Gaddafi compound and near the port, with loyalists using tanks to defend the area.
The BBC News confirmed that the Libyan state TV channels went off air by the afternoon, and that rebels were in control of the state TV building.
The situation in the capital was confused, but loyalist forces were definitively known to remain in control of Bab al-Aziziya, the Rixos hotel, a hospital in Tajura, and part of the port. The situation at the Mitiga airbase was unclear, though many news organizations reported that rebels had taken it.
During the afternoon, rebels pulled back from an area near Green Square, in what they claim was a plan to launch a coordinated offensive elsewhere. Rebel forces in Tajoura said they were negotiating with loyalist forces, holed up in the local hospital, to surrender.
In the evening, rebel forces who were fighting in the western part of Tripoli were pushed back. Also, reports seem to indicate that Mohammed Gaddafi managed to escape house arrest with the help of loyalist fighters.
On 22 August night, a rebel said that he expected a hard fight for Gaddafi's compound, confirmed Mohammed Gaddafi's escape and said that rebels were establishing checkpoints at the entrances of Tripoli.
Misrata's local military council said they sent several ships "with a large number of fighters and ammunition on board" as reinforcements to Tripoli.
Very early in the morning, CNN reporter Matthew Chance reported that he had seen and spoken to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi in a convoy of armoured Land Cruisers near the Rixos hotel. Al Arabiya reported via Le Figaro that a rebel confirmed that Saif had been captured, but then escaped.
State of Gaddafi family
The location of Muammar Gaddafi was unclear on 22 August; it was thought that he could still be staying in Tripoli, surrounded by remaining forces in his his Bab al-Azizia compound, but this is yet to be determined. Another report had him in the Tajura cardiac hospital. Al Jazeera reported that Muammar Gaddafi allegedly had successfully resisted an attempt to arrest him at the hospital. Mutassim Gaddafi was allegedly remaining in the Bab al-Azizia compound directing the remaining defenses, while Khamis Gaddafi (who had earlier been rumored killed in an airstrike at Zliten) was reported to be leading loyalist tank forces in a counterattack against central Tripoli, in an attempt to relieve the siege of Bab al-Azizia.
Al Arabiya reported that a third Gaddafi son, Al-Saadi al-Gaddafi, had been captured by the rebels, citing the head of the NTC. He had been reported captured as well the previous day, so it was unclear when and where the capture took place.
On 22 August, two charred bodies were found in Tripoli that Al Jazeera suggested could be the bodies of Khamis Gaddafi and Abdullah Senussi. However, a rebel commander later stated that he believed Khamis Gaddafi was in Bab al-Azizia.
According to NATO's daily Operational Media Updates, the NATO strikes during the offensive, hit:
20–21 August NATO strikes
Date Missiles and missiles launchers Tanks Vehicles Radar Buildings
9 Surface to Air Missile Launchers 1 Tank 2 Technicals 2 Radar 3 Command and Control Facilities, 1 Military Facility
1 Surface to Surface Missile, 2 Multiple Rocket Launchers 0 Tanks 7 Surface to Air Missile Transloaders, 2 Technicals, 2 Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV's) 1 Radar 3 Military Facilities, 1 Military Storage Facility, 3 Command and Control Nodes
Total 10 1 13 3 10
Influences on other fronts
On 22 August, 2011, at least three Scud missiles were fired from a base near the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte at the rebel city of Misrata.One of these was shot down by a NATO jet; the others reportedly did not cause any damage.
2011 Libyan rebel coastal offensive
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