Rebels opposed to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi captured the town of Al Qawalish today, moving closer to Garyan, the city astride the highway running south from Tripoli. I have filed a story that will post soon on the NYT, and Bryan Denton has filed pix. As usual, we’ll post a link here when the story and photos are published. (It’s here.)
Meanwhile, here are a few images made quickly as we passed through the positions as they changed hands. This was a bit of graffiti inside a building from which the Qaddafi soldiers had hastily fled.
This next image (below) suggests, as we see again and again, how much ordnance is available to the Qaddafi military forces. Wherever Qaddafi units give up ground, almost invariably these kinds of scenes — mounds of emptied ammunition and ordnance crates — repeat themselves. Each time, quick inventories reveal something more of how the Qaddafi government expended the nation’s money, and of which countries helped him amass his arms and ordnance stores. (More on that another day.)
For a contrast, here, below, is a sign of the rebels’ scarcity of supply. No sooner had they seized Al Qawalish, than dozens of them converged on the town’s sole gas station in a mad search for fuel. The Nafusa mountain region suffers from fuel and food shortages. Luckily for the rebels today, the Qaddafi soldiers who had dug in around Al Qawalish did not drain the gas station dry. The rebels jostled and fought for fuel at the station’s few pumps until incoming ground-to-ground rockets chased them away. These men managed to fill a jug and transfer most of to their tank before they speeding off.
On the subject of scarcity, the article soon to be published noted the shortage of rifles among the rebels. This is a theme this blog and At War have both covered often. (As has the NYT proper, here.)
I won’t dwell further today on the issues raised by either supporting or opposing efforts to arm the rebels for their war. Instead I’ll note an unexpected impression. Since arriving in Libya’s west, we’ve seen many rebels carrying old Italian Carcano bolt-action rifles and carbines. We had seen several of these likely remnants of Italian colonization in eastern Libya, and a few more in Misurata. But in a few days in the west I think we’ve seen a dozen. These two gentlemen, below, who we encountered on the road out of town as we headed back to Zintan for a hospital check late in the afternoon, fit the bill for a photo, as one carried a Carcano rifle and the other a Carcano cavalry carbine.
There may be a reason for the relatively larger presence of Carcanos here in western Libya. It’s this: these rebels seem to have at least a modicum of ammunition for them — ammunition that had apparently been kept in people’s homes for decades.
Earlier in the day, as we waited outside Al Qawalish as the Qaddafi forces shelled the hills nearby to cover their withdrawal, another gentleman offered a glimpse of his cartridges.
Where did you get these? I asked him.
“From my grandfather,” he said.
You can read that statement many ways. As it applies to this war, you might say, “So much for robust sources of rebel military supply.” And that would be true. But as it applies to notions of post-conflict disarmament, it’s a reminder of how items used in an uprising more than a half a century ago can still have martial currency, at least until the ammunition runs out.
If a Carcano from almost a century back can still find a useful place on the battlefield in 2011, how long do you think the Kalashnikovs and FN FALs set loose in Libya since February will be circulating through African wars?
After the gentleman with the Carcano showed me his cartridges, he insisted on demonstrating that it worked. Before I could stop him, he chambered a round, pointed the carbine slightly overhead and pulled the trigger. The muzzle was about a foot away from our ears. As interview gestures go, the man gets points for being emphatic that he likes and relies comfortably on his dated carbine, no matter its age. Ten hours later, my ears still ring. That was just the beginning. Once the rebels moved on Al Qawalish, the celebratory fire began. It didn’t let up for hours, never mind the rebels’ poor state of supply.
He is maneuvering for three things — to leave the country, to have money and to be shielded from the International Criminal Court.
The War Powers Resolution doesn’t authorize a single day of Libyan bombing. But it does provide an escape hatch, stating that it is not “intended to alter the constitutional authority of the Congress or of the President.” So it’s open for Obama to assert that his power as commander in chief allows him to wage war without Congress, despite the Constitution’s insistence to the contrary.
Many modern presidents have made such claims, and Harry Truman acted upon this assertion in Korea. But it’s surprising to find Obama on the verge of ratifying such precedents. He was elected in reaction to the unilateralist assertions of John Yoo and other apologists for George W. Bush-era illegalities. Yet he is now moving onto ground that even Bush did not occupy. After a lot of talk about his inherent powers, Bush did get Congress to authorize his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, Obama is putting Bush-era talk into action in Libya — without congressional authorization.
If we were about to be attacked or had been attacked or something happened that threatened a vital U.S. national interest, I would be the first in line to say, ‘Let’s go.’ I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice.