Appearance of Gadhafi's Son Shows Rebels Not Yet in Control in Libya

3 MINS READAug 23, 2011 | 01:54 GMT
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, appeared in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli early Aug. 23 local time and held a brief news conference with foreign journalists. His appearance, witnessed by a number of Western reporters, effectively delegitimizes an Aug. 22 claim by the National Transitional Council (NTC) that rebels had captured Seif al-Islam. That claim was even backed by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah, who said Aug. 22 that the ICC was "discussing [Seif al-Islam's] surrender" with the NTC. In the conference, Seif al-Islam claimed that his father was safe in Tripoli and that the capital was secure. Seif al-Islam also dismissed a reporter's statement that the rebels had said they would give him over to the ICC. There is also video footage circulating of Seif al-Islam, appearing in a green T-shirt before a crowd of Gadhafi supporters with Libyan flags and portraits of his father in the background. Seif al-Islam's public appearance illustrates two key points. The first is that rebel claims, designed primarily to trigger a broader uprising within Tripoli and elicit foreign support, are highly unreliable. The rebel disinformation campaign has grown steadily more sophisticated since the beginning of Libya's crisis, and the rumor of Seif al-Islam's capture continues that trend. The rebels had also claimed that Mohammed Gadhafi, the eldest Gadhafi son, had been arrested Aug. 22. But on Aug. 23, the rebels changed their story and claimed he had escaped. (click here to enlarge image) The second point is that this fight is by no means over. Rebel forces, likely aided by advance teams of foreign special operations forces, were able to enter the Libyan capital with relative ease. But there are no clear indications that Gadhafi's most hardened fighters, particularly the Khamis Brigade, led by Gadhafi's youngest son, have retreated. The extent of Gadhafi's remaining control over Tripoli remains unclear, but the Libyan leader still has strongholds west of the capital in Zwara and to the east of the capital, in the central Libyan regions of Sirte and Sabha. As the NTC has already warned, Gadhafi's forces could use these areas as a base to continue military operations against rebel forces. The rebels in Tripoli also face the threat that remaining Gadhafi forces will dig in for an urban insurgent campaign in Tripoli, though such a campaign will be difficult to maintain given the rebels' recently expanded control over Gadhafi's main lines of supply to Tripoli. A Twitter feed from an opposition force reported Aug. 22 that Gadhafi's forces were shelling Zwara, which lies west of Sabratha and Zawiya on the western coastal road near the Tunisian border. This report has not been confirmed, but NATO did verify Aug. 22 reports that Gadhafi's forces had fired three Scud-type missiles from the area of Sirte, and one from Sirat City southeast of Tripoli, toward rebel positions. Libyan government forces are likely facing heavy constraints — trying to conserve their remaining supplies and push back the rebel advances — but rebel claims of seizing Tripoli cannot be trusted at this time.

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