The Libyan air force has attacked the oil town of Brega for a second day in succession, signalling the beginnings of a desperate campaign by the Qadhafi-regime to recover the country’s oil heartland, which the opposition now controls.
On Thursday, a regime warplane bombed the airport of Brega, only 200 km from Benghazi, the stronghold of the anti-Qadafi uprising.
The nearby opposition–held town of Ajdabiyah was also attacked from the air. However, unlike the previous day, a ground offensive, necessary to take-over Brega, known for its oil terminal has not materialised so far. Around 300-400 personnel riding on pick-up trucks, from a militia loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi, had on Wednesday, made an attempt to hold prominent landmarks of the town, such as the university and the airport. However, an anti-Qadhafi citizens’ militia, mainly drawn from local “liberated” areas including Ajdabiyah repulsed the attack, forcing a retreat of the pro-regime fighters to their temporary home base of Ras Lunaf, known for its giant refinery.
Observers say the new pattern of attacks over the past two days is a reflection of anxiety of the Qadhafi-regime to quickly recover Libya’s oil-bearing areas located mainly in the opposition-held east.
Nearly 75 per cent of Libyan oil lies in the east, along with the country’s major oil export terminals. Without access to the hefty oil revenues generated by the eastern oil fields, it was unlikely that Mr. Qadhafi would be in a position for long to keep his loyalists together, who benefit from a regime-generated cycle of tribal patronage. Unsurprisingly, in his meandering address on Wednesday, Mr. Qadhafi had bluntly warned that the opposition takeover of oil facilities was unacceptable.
Despite successfully repulsing the regime attacks, the nascent anti-Qadhafi leadership in Benghazi, is expressing alarm. At a press conference in the eastern city on Wednesday, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, the spokesman of the Transitional National Council urged the United Nations to “take necessary steps to stop the massacre by mercenaries”.
He also invited the “international community” to undertake “pin-pointed air strikes on the mercenaries”.
Notwithstanding the appeal for aerial support, the United States has signalled that at least for now, it was not ready to comply. The U.S. Defence Secretary, Robert Gates has told law makers in Washington that a single aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean is not in a position to impose a “no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences.”
Military analysts are of the view that a sampling of air strikes being undertaken by the Qadhafi-regime and sporadic raids on the ground by loyalists is unlikely to prove decisive. However, the conflict can expand dramatically if adversarial tribal militias are drawn into the fighting. The Brega area sits atop Libya’s east-west ethnic faultline, with pro-Qadhafi tribes, especially in the area of Surt residing in strength further to the west. With the adversaries locked in a stalemate, President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez has offered mediation to resolve the crisis after speaking to Mr. Qadhafi on Wednesday. According to Al Jazeera, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan Foreign Minister, has also spoken with Arab League chief Amr Moussa on the initiative. Clovis Maksoud, former Arab League Ambassador to the United Nations, has told the channel that the Arab League should try and establish a no-fly zone
over Libya. Meanwhile, the unending strife in Libya continues to aggravate a humanitarian crisis, visible especially along the Libya-Tunisia border. Sybella Wilkes, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was quoted as saying “acres of people” are waiting to cross into Tunisia.