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As NATO faces 'stalemate', how can Libya conflict end?

Muammar Gaddafi is still clinging to power, clashes between rebels and loyalist troops continue and the US has admitted there is a 'stalemate'. French researcher Yves Boyer says military force alone will not end the conflict in Libya.


More than four months after NATO intervened in the Libyan conflict, is there an end in sight?

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (the highest-ranking US military officer) Michael Mullen has his doubts.

As he eyes retirement (expected to start September 30), Mullen on Monday said that NATO was “in a stalemate” in Libya – even though he acknowledged that the raids carried out by the organisation had “dramatically attrited [worn down]” Gaddafi’s forces.

He insisted that “in the long term” it would be “a strategy that will work toward the removal of [Gaddafi] from power”.

Taking the Libyan reality into account

Mullen’s point of view is not shared by Yves Boyer, assistant director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.

According to Boyer, a defence specialist, NATO operations combined with the rebels’ efforts against pro-Gaddafi forces have been useful. “The coalition is doing its job,” he said.

“The capacity of Muammar Gaddafi’s forces has been completely destroyed. His air and naval forces no longer exist. Gaddafi has lost the military initiative and is no longer capable of pushing back the insurgents when they gain ground, even if their progression is very slow.”

If the Libyan situation has lent itself to differing analyses, most military experts seem to agree on one thing: the end of the conflict will not be attained by military means alone.

Crucial to finding a way out of the crisis will be several societal and historical factors, such as the age-old tension between the eastern coastal Cyrenaica region (a rebel stronghold) and north-western Tripolitania, the fluctuating alliances between various tribes and the eventual risk the country will be divided.

“One must absolutely take into account the political, geographic, and tribal situations, which are very complex,” Boyer noted.

Gaddafi’s social networks

Patrick Haimzadeh, a former French diplomat in Libya, agreed that the local situation would be decisive to the outcome of the crisis.

“Muammar Gaddafi is resisting…because he still has a social network among the Libyan people, and it isn’t negligible,” he explained in an interview published on a prominent French defence policy blog, ‘Secret Defense’.

“Particularly important is the population of Fezzan [in the south] which never joined the rebels, and also certain parts of Tripolitania. Indeed, for the past 42 years, Gaddafi has had a system of deals and rewards in place that has turned out to be hugely effective.”

Top French and British diplomats who gathered in London on Monday to discuss the Libyan situation reaffirmed their determination to pursue the military option. The coalition is still carrying out strikes on Tripoli just days before Ramadan begins.

But the diplomats said they were not excluding a diplomatic solution. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and his British counterpart, William Hague, both said they were ready to accept an agreement that would allow Gaddafi to leave power peacefully.

‘The war could end in one of three ways’

Other analysts have speculated that if a military or political solution fails, Gaddafi could also be ousted by his own entourage.

By gaining ground bit by bit, the rebels could find themselves getting close to Tripoli, which would make the situation even more delicate for Gaddafi and his advisors, who are already isolated.

“Gaddafi could be overthrown from the inside,” Boyer explained. “For the moment, we have no information suggesting that. But his entourage could be corrupted… Muammar Gaddafi could be gone tomorrow, or the conflict could last for weeks to come.”

The head of the National Transitional Council (which was formed to represent the Libyan opposition after the outbreak of the conflict this year), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, also thinks the scenario of a coup from inside Gaddafi’s residence may be plausible.

“The war will end in one of three ways,” he told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday. “Gaddafi will surrender, he will flee Libya, or he will be killed or captured by one of his bodyguards or by rebel forces.”

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