After the uprising, the rebels stumbled as they tried to organize. They did a poor job of defining themselves when Libyans and the outside world tried to figure out what they stood for. And now, as they try to defeat Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s armed forces and militias, they will have to rely on allied airstrikes and young men with guns because the army that rebel military leaders bragged about consists of only about 1,000 trained men.
Ah. Right. And see also:
The rebels' operations are further undermined by an absence of command and control. On Monday two men standing within a hundred yards of each other, "Captain" Jalal Idrisi and "Major" Adil Hassi, claimed to be in charge of the fighters who were meant to be attacking Ajdabiya. A brief advance soon turned into a chaotic retreat. Major Hassi then claimed that the misjudgement in going forward had been Captain Idris's idea. But why didn't they liaise? "We haven't got communications equipment" he responded. But the Captain is standing just over there, journalists pointed out. "I don't talk to him," said Major Hassi.
All this reminds me of something from Claud Cockburn’s autobiography. The background is the civil war in Spain.
Occasionally, despite non-intervention, the government of Leon Blum, under pressure from the Left, agreed that all concerned should shut both eyes tight while military supplies were rushed across the Catalan frontier. At this moment a major battle was being mounted in Spain. On the frontier a big consignment of field guns was ready. The outcome of the battle might depend on its getting through. Next morning, a strong deputation of Communist deputies and others was to call on Blum asking for a little shut-eye. Naturally, Blum was always more malleable when anything happened to suggest that Franco might after all lose the war. It was thus essential, Katz pointed out, that a jolt of that kind should be administered now. Something with a clear psychological impact. What better than news of a sudden revolt against Franco at the very origin and source of his first onslaught, Spanish Morocco? Why not, for instance, Tetuan?
...we worked on the story at a high pitch of anxiety and excitement. Our chief anxiety was that, having nothing to go on but the plans in uncontoured guide books, we might have Democrats and Fascists firing at each other down the length of an Avenue which some well traveled night editor would know had a great hump in the middle. The fighting, accordingly, took place in short streets and open squares. As we saw it, sections of the Moorish soldiery, sickened by losses in Spain, had joined with civilian victims of colonial oppression and Spanish anti-Fascists in united and desperate action. Katz was insistent that we use a lot of names of both heroes and villains but express uncertainty over some of them – thus in the confusion of the struggle outside the barracks it had been impossible to know whether the captain Murillo who died so gallantly was the same Captain Murillo, who, months ago in Madrid...
In the end it emerged as one of the most factual, inspiring and yet sober pieces of war reporting I ever saw and the night editors loved it. When the deputation saw Blum in the morning he had been reading it in newspaper after newspaper and appreciating its significance...the guns got through all right and the Republicans won that battle.
Now obviously there’s nothing fictional about the rebellion in Libya, though a lot of what we’ve been hearing about the details of events over the past few weeks seems to have been factitious. But let’s say you’re a defector from the Gaddafi regime and you go over expecting to find the basics of an alternative government in place, backed solidly by elements of the Libyan army that have declared for the revolution. What you find is a bunch of people milling about Benghazi waving guns, but there’s no going back.
So what we seem to have had here is a masterful exercise in strategic communications on the fly (it fooled me, at any rate) whose basic aim seems to have been not only to get a no fly zone in place but to establish the idea that a coherent movement actually exists on whose behalf an intervention can be made. And from the tone of the NYT story, maybe the next stage is to reveal the awful truth in such a way that inserting a ground force would be the next logical step. Otto Katz would have loved it.