NATO is also assisting the rebels logistically by unfreezing the $60 billion Gaddafi and his family had in assets and bank accounts in their countries. This money will be turned over to the rebels to help run the territory they control. One estimate is that, in the short term, the insurgent government in Benghazi will need $3 billion alone to meet their commitments. Oil-rich Qatar has already helped out with a $600 million donation. To further assist rebel finances, NATO is also allowing the sale of oil from the territories under their control in Western Libya.
Gaddafi is expected to hire lawyers to fight the confiscation of his assets, about $34 billion of which are located in the United States. This is not surprising, since there is an oil embargo on the areas he controls, and he has no other source of revenue. As time goes on, Gaddafi will need money more than the rebels. It is a matter of survival. He has to pay for his shadow army of 20,000 mercenaries, and mercenaries are expensive. They will only keep fighting as long as they get paid. It is not known how much cash Gaddafi had at the start of the conflict, but his financial resources are not inexhaustible. And wars cost money – lots of money. Secretary of State Robert Gates said on Thursday the Libyan conflict has cost the United Stares $750 million so far, and America is not a major combatant.
But Gaddafi is a ruthless survivor and knows how to make an ugly war even uglier. He is proving this by hitting back at NATO with perhaps the one weapon he knows the European Union countries fear: an unrestricted flood of illegal immigrants. By allowing a massive flood of refugees to leave from Libya to Europe, primarily to Italy and Malta, Gaddafi is not only taking revenge against NATO for interfering in Libya’s civil war, but showing them what will happen if he is removed from power.
Under Gaddafi, Libya had been the guardian of Europe’s gate against an uncontrolled influx of illegal sub-Saharan African immigrants. Libya had struck an agreement with Italy in 2008 to return such would-be migrants, which reduced the numbers reaching Italian shores significantly. Now, officials in Tripoli are reported to be deliberately sending boatloads of these refugees, who had been living both legally and illegally in Libya before the conflict and numbered about 1.5 million, to Italy and Malta. And since these voyages of desperation are often undertaken in overloaded, unseaworthy boats, they sometimes end tragically. Several ships have sunk before they could reach a safe shore, costing hundreds of lives.
Gaddafi knows he has to win this war or he and his family will die, which is incentive enough for him to fight to the bitter end. His defeat at Misrata represents not just a failure in this life or death struggle but also a sign of weakness, which is deadly for a dictator in his part of the world.
And as time goes on, the rebels will get stronger and stronger as NATO’s training efforts take effect, and their logistics and strategic situation improves, to which the Misrata victory contributed. The fall of Misrata into rebel hands may also have finally dispelled for NATO the notion of sending ground troops into Libya to assist the rebels, which the alliance almost did when it appeared Gaddafi’s army was going to seize the city. Even without NATO troops, though, the insurgents will defeat Gaddafi, but only after more months of hard struggle.
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