TRIPOLI, August 23 — This observer’s tentative appraisal of Tuesday’s events along the North Tripoli Port area as of late afternoon, August 23, is that the “65,000 well trained and well-armed troops” hyped Sunday by the Gaddafi government don’t in fact exist, and that the pockets of government troops here in Tripoli and across Libya that do will continue to resist what it views as NATO aggression designed to usurp the country’s oil and add Libya to AFRICOM.
NATO is widely viewed as having violated the three main terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973; to wit, NATO did engage in regime change, it did take sides in a civil war, it did arm one side, and it did refuse to allow a negotiated diplomatic settlement, which many here and internationally believe could have been achieved by early April, thus saving hundreds of Libyan lives. NATO’s more than 160 days of bombing are seen as egregious violations of Resolution 1973, Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter, and numerous provisions of international law—all part of its campaign to secure Libyan oil and this rich country’s geopolitical cooperation for the U.S., U.K., France, Italy, and their NATO allies.
I am advised that some Gaddafi loyalists are headed to the colonel’s home town of Serte to prepare to defend it. Some of my reasons for these tentative conclusions include the no-show government troops, the intensifying NATO bombings of Tripoli, which is the only reason the rebels have not negotiated an end to this conflict last April, and my tentative conclusion that there is no reason for massive numbers of government troops, if they existed, not to challenge the increasing numbers of NATO rebels who appear to be sitting ducks as they tool around Tripoli’s troops.
According to journalists who arrived at this hotel yesterday from the west, south and east, there appear to be no government forces moving toward Tripoli to join in an Alamo-type last stand battle. Obviously, I could be very mistaken, but subject to correction, I expect a “rebel victory” without defining that term, late this week.
During the early afternoon of August 23, power and internet were cut from our hotel, and again the sealed windowed rooms heated up fast and had to be essentially vacated, unless one stayed in the bathtub filled with tepid tap water. We currently have no local or international phone service, or information from outside Libya, or any knowledge of what is being reported internationally about Libya.
On Monday night, August 22, 2011, this observer met with Saif al Islam. He was not captured, and he is not dead. At least not as of 11 p.m. Monday, roughly 24 hours after the NTC and the ICC claimed he was captured and was being prepared for transport to The Hague. Saif was defiant, and he gave assurances that his family was safe and that NATO would be defeated politically for its crimes against Libyan civilians.
Saif took a western camera man and reporter on a short tour of Tripoli, showing them that NATO was not in control—not 95% in control of Tripoli, as the NTC representative in London has been claiming since Sunday night, and not 80% in control of Tripoli as the White House and NATO’s “Operation protect the Libyan civilians” CEO, Rasmussen, has claimed.
But the rebels do appear to currently control large swatches of Libya’s capital. A journalist named “Kim” S. from the U.K. Independent, who has been with the rebels for the past more than two months, and who seemed to literally sort of stumble into our hotel yesterday, told me this morning that NTC claims made during the period he was with them were “complete bullshit.”
Saif, Colonel Gaddafi’s onetime heir apparent, was in good spirits and exuded confidence. In conversation with one Yankee, he said that he earned his PhD at the London School of Economics, contrary to media reports last spring that Saif bought his PhD from LSE, which he said was not true. He had in fact worked hard for nearly three years researching and writing his doctoral dissertation on community development. He was offended by reports than he did not. I tend to believe him because I found the LSE academically tough, and my advisor, Professor David Johnson, and his Thesis Examination Committee trio, to my chagrin, went over my dissertation, Pollution as a Problem of International Law, for nearly three hours, paragraph by paragraph, during my oral Thesis defense, more than two decades ago. I am thinking and assuming that LSE has not lowered its academic standards since the days of Harold Laski and David Johnson.
My new “office” is located in the outside patio area above the swimming pool and gardens of the “7 star” Corinthia hotel, with a wonderful sea view overlooking Tripoli harbor to the north and the old city of Tripoli to the south. When a bomb hits or sustained gunfire erupts, the office quickly moves just inside the glassed-in restaurant, which features the only ‘hot’ electric plug among the more than 6,000 currently dead ones in this hotel. Nobody knows when the hotel generator will crash, ending the last of the wattage here and exhausting laptop and mobile phone batteries.
The inside of the hotel is sweltering, having had no air conditioning for more than 48 hours. Wanting some fresh air, I prop open a door to the former Japanese Sushi Bar on the outside patio, but Miss Lorraine, the hotel manager, scolds me. “You bloody American”, she seethed at me yesterday. “First your bloody government brings NATO to bomb us to pieces and now you fill my hotel with birds! Damn all of you!”
It’s true that Lorraine sometimes gets a little upset when a bomb goes off and some of the birds from the hotel garden fly into the hotel’s two-level grand lobby complete with lots of plants and palm trees, where the poor frightened birds seek safety. They seem to like it inside our hotel.
Concerning the outdoor hotel garden, for some reason the garden lights are always on (last night the only ones in all of north Tripoli that I could see), and the garden fountains continue pumping, which of course uses up quite valuable generator fuel oil. Lorraine laments: “As you know Mr. Lamb, the staff has abandoned me and I don’t know where the switch is. I would be ever so grateful if you could find it—I think it’s out there in the garden somewhere—and turn it off. Really I would!” Well, I did find the switch, turned off the fountains and the garden lights, and Lorraine suddenly likes me again. Would that all women were so easy to please.
Yesterday, one of the few staff people around here offered me the leader’s framed picture (way too big to transport!) and a green flag that had been removed from outside the hotel’s main entrance. Miss Lorraine became distressed because she thought if I was caught with a green flag I could be in trouble. So as not to cause her more stress I declined with the knowledge that I already have a few packed away as gifts for friends.
The green flags and the gold-framed picture of Gaddafi that were removed two nights ago suddenly returned overnight. There had been a heated discussion by remaining senior hotel management staff— numbering two it appears—about the wisdom of removing them. For now they are back where they were.
9:25 a.m. Two NATO bombs blast nearby. Three “security guys” from resting on a lobby couch run outside to see what happened. More birds come in and I again move my table away from the patio door.
9:43 a.m. Anti-aircraft gun fire hits the side of the hotel, chipping the concrete siding near the garden entrance so I move one flight downstairs to the lobby.
10:20 a.m. A very long convoy of 237 rebel pickups, some with mounted anti-aircraft guns and filled with young fighters with RPG’s and AK-47’s and heavier guns, pass within 100 yards of me and the hotel balcony above the swimming pool and the seaside road—driving east along the sea front. They passed in front of the Marriott and Bab al Bahar (“gate to the sea”) hotel complex of five tall buildings, apparently unaware that yesterday at about the same time, 22 truckloads of government troops turned right into that same complex, and at least some of them went underground. Last night there was gunfire from the government troop location, but as of this moment the government troops are undiscovered (if they did not redeploy overnight) and did not fire on the passing rebel convoy, although the rebels slow-moving convoy must have presented an attractive target. Again one wonders if the government’s troops are laying an elaborate trap for their enemies or if they have decided to sit out this phase and wait to learn whether Gaddafi’s regime can hang on. Or if they even exist in significant numbers.
The three “battle hardened journalists” who just arrived at this hotel are debating if the rebel’s convoy was in retreat or was advancing. My own two-cents worth is that they were advancing toward the Bab al Azizya (“splendid gate”) Gaddafi barracks, which as of this morning NATO has bombed a reported 144 times. I base my view on the serious looks on the rebel’s faces, their evident adrenalin, the fact that their advance is slow and fairly ordered, including five ambulances bringing up the rear, and the fact that some of them seem to be checking their weapons and ammunition belts as if preparing for a firefight. Some fighters eye us sternly, seemingly unsure whether we are friend or foe. We wave at them and some wave back. However, moments later we hear gunfire from our rear and it appears that someone is firing at us thinking we are supporting the rebels. Kim and I duck into the hotel foyer, but he goes back out.
10:40 a.m. Heavy gunfire is heard from the direction of Bab al Azizia Kaddafi barracks.
10:55 a.m. 20 minutes of heavy small arms and mortar rounds erupt and appear to be fired toward Gaddafi’s compound. Maybe it is from the rebel’s convoy that just passed, but the three battle-hardened journalists, including the U.K. Independent’s Kim, who I have joined up with for the time being, are debating the subject. Very close AK-47 gunfire. We come back inside.
12:35 p.m. Two “rebel representatives” arrived at the main entrance of our hotel and caused a stir inside the lobby at the front desk. This hotel has zero security now; the last two uniformed security guys left early yesterday. The two “rebel” guys offered protection for the handful of us here. There was shouting as the front desk guys refused their offer. Eventually the “rebels” left. The hotel guys said the visitors were indeed local rebel “criminals” and that they had come to loot the hotel and not to protect it. However, there are exactly 8 rooms currently being occupied and one of the journalists claims he was already robbed en route from Zawiyeh yesterday just in front of the hotel. His laptop and his cash were stolen. Front desk hotel staff claims that today the “rebels” stole one car, tried but failed to hot wire two others, and stole ten computers from the hotel office. They also reportedly set up a rebel checkpoint at Gate Two outside our hotel and replaced the green flags with rebel tricolors. I declined to go check.
The AP’s man, Martin, who also arrived yesterday, just told me that the rebels now control the North Tripoli port area where our hotel is situated. My thoughts move to the 22 truckloads of government fighters who I saw disappear yesterday morning among the seaside hotels near our hotel. Meanwhile, Kim reported that visas are no longer required to enter Libya from Tunisia.
12:50 p.m. A shorter convoy of 47 rebel vehicles passed the hotel. Maybe part of the earlier group on a victory lap, or just patrolling or flaunting their control, or perhaps it was a new group. They did not appear in a hurry or very anxious. We photographed them without their objection as they waved and drove into West Tripoli.
1:30 p.m. Three rockets hit near what appears to be Bab al Azizia. Heavy gunfire and two more rockets or mortars follow. AP’s Martin and the Independent’s Kim go out to look. Two more mortars appear to hit in the direction of Bab al Azizia. Kim reported that for some reason no one seems to need a visa to enter now from Jerba, Tunisia, and he also thinks that perhaps the Gaddafi regime may have set a trap and will close it when his forces see the whites of rebel’s eyes.
One rebel media representative who re-defected back to the Gaddafi regime from the rebels is being interviewed by a journalist this afternoon. He told us that the NATO office in Naples is writing or vetting all NTC communications and that they have on their staff Israel Defense Ministry of Information psych-warfare specialists who are producing “panic-causing leaflets and mobile phone messages” as well as putting out false claims at key moments for maximum impact on international and local public opinion.
This observer is not sure if NATO recalls how during the July 2006 war in Lebanon, Hezbollah took IDF and US Israeli lobby psych-war propaganda and wrapped it around Israel’s neck during the 33-day war. However, it appears from here that the West is gobbling up the fake NTC (NATO) “media advisories” being regurgitated by “Libya experts” interviewed ad nausea on CNN, BCC, FOX and other mainstream media outlets who pontificate about the NTC democrats’ stunning achievement.
The above noted interviewee also claims that he heard rumors that NATO has dropped hit teams to control the messages coming from non-mainstream reporters who depict NATO and rebel activities in a negative light. Time may tell.
4:14 p.m. It appears that the hotel generator crashed, so there is currently no power whatsoever at the hotel, including no elevator. I am not relishing the 18-floor hike up to my room, especially given my throbbing right leg [Editor’s note: Mr. Lamb was shot in the leg on August 21].
6:15 p.m. The young man who let me borrow his bicycle rushed into the Corinthia hotel to tell us that Gaddafi’s compound at Bab al Azizia has been taken by “NATO rebel” forces following the nearly 9 hour battle. A high ranking Gaddafi official advised me last night that he expected Gaddafi’s compound would be taken and that the Colonel will not be easy to locate and will continue to galvanize a counter-revolution in the coming days. He also told me that during the night of Saturday, August 20, Gaddafi issued orders for his troops and supporters not to bomb and fire tanks inside Tripoli for fear of killing civilians and destroying civilian houses.