Obstacles To A Cease-Fire In Libya

In the video below, Analyst Reva Bhalla examines the constraints facing all sides in Libya as attempts at cease-fire negotiations continue.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
The African Union and the Turkish government are both trying to negotiate a cease-fire in Libya. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has already given the green light to an African Union proposal led by South African President Jacob Zuma on the condition that NATO first cease its airstrikes. The rebels in the east have rejected the terms of the cease-fire, sticking to their demand that Gadhafi first step down. Meanwhile, NATO forces maintained that they will continue launching airstrikes as long as Libyan civilians in the east are threatened.

Clearly, the cease-fire negotiations are fraught with complications. But as time wears on, it’s looking increasingly likely that the current stalemate in Libya could give way to a de facto partition between east and west. This may not be the ideal scenario for many, but it could allow the United States to avoid another costly nation-building exercise in the Islamic world, while allowing Gadhafi to remain in power, however tenuously. Each party in this conflict — whether you’re talking about the eastern rebels, Gadhafi’s forces or NATO forces — are facing considerable dilemmas in how to proceed in this military campaign.

The eastern rebels have made clear that they’re not content with holding onto the east and ceding the west to Gadhafi’s forces. The problem with the rebel forces it that they are severely ill-trained and ill-equipped. And if you take a look at the battles that have been taking place in the energy-critical areas of (Marsa el) Brega, Ras Lanuf, Zawiya and the port of Sidra, show just how difficult of a time the rebels are having in trying to push Gadhafi’s forces back. And the more Gadhafi’s forces deliberately pull back into built-up urban strongholds in the west, the less likely NATO forces are to provide air cover for fear of causing mass civilian casualties. Simply put, the rebels do not have the fighting power to advance westward to Tripoli.

Meanwhile, Gadhafi’s forces remain largely in control of the main energy-producing regions running alongside the dividing line of the country and the Gulf of Sidra region. These forces reach as far as Ajdabiya, just below the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Though a number of Gadhafi’s tanks are being eliminated by NATO airstrikes, his forces have been able to rely on much less resource-intensive and highly mobile civilian vehicles and technicals to move their forces around and push the rebels back. Gadhafi’s forces are facing heavy constraints in resupply as long as NATO forces are patrolling the seas and the skies over Libya. All in all, though, Gadhafi would be negotiating from a relative position of strength in any cease-fire negotiation. Even if Gadhafi himself is eliminated, there do appear to be enough forces loyal to him that could step in and reassert control from the west.

This obviously puts NATO in a very difficult spot. As long as Gadhafi’s forces have the option of pulling back into well built-up urban strongholds, NATO will face very heavy constraints in trying to avoid the risk of blowback in causing civilian casualties. This gives Gadhafi undeniable staying power. Meanwhile, the United States is facing much more pressing and strategic concerns more eastward in the region in the Persian Gulf region, where Iran is waiting to fill a power vacuum in Iraq as U.S. forces are drawing down there. The U.S. then may be resigning itself to the idea that it may not be getting much beyond a stalemate in Libya, and that forcing a power vacuum in the country may be a lot more trouble than it’s worth.

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