Libya Live — Protests and Revolt (2011)


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Jul 7, 2009
Libya, an oil-rich nation in North Africa, has been under the firm, if sometimes erratic, control of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi since he seized power in 1969. But in February 2011, the unrest sweeping through much of the Arab world erupted in several Libyan cities. Though it began with a relatively organized core of antigovernment opponents in Benghazi, its spread to the capital of Tripoli was swift and spontaneous. Colonel Qaddafi lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings, but an inchoate opposition cobbled together the semblance of a transitional government, fielded a makeshift rebel army and portrayed itself to the West and Libyans as an alternative to Colonel Qaddafi's four decades of freakish rule.

Momentum shifted quickly, however, and the rebels faced the possibilty of being outgunned and outnumbered in what increasingly looked like a mismatched civil war. As Colonel Qaddafi’s troops advanced to within 100 miles of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the west, the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of the rebels by loyalist forces. On March 19, American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against Colonel Qaddafi and his government, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war.


March 22 The military campaign to destroy air defenses and establish a no-fly zone over Libya has nearly accomplished its initial objectives, and the United States is moving swiftly to hand command to allies in Europe, American officials said, but fighting continued as reports began to emerge of the crash of an American warplane. The crash, which was probably caused by mechanical failure, was the first known setback for the international coalition attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in three days of strikes authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Timeline: Qaddafi

March 21 After a second night of American and European strikes by air and sea against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, European nations rejected Libyan claims that civilians had been killed. Pro-Qaddafi forces were reported, meanwhile, to be holding out against the allied campaign to break their hold on the ground while enforcing a no-fly zone. Rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya appeared to have fallen back to a position around 12 miles to the north on the road to Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital.

March 20 American and European militaries intensified their air and sea barrage against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, as the mission moved beyond taking away his ability to use Libyan airspace, to obliterating his hold on the ground as well, allied officials said. Rebel forces, battered and routed by loyalist fighters just the day before, began to regroup in the east as allied warplanes destroyed dozens of government armored vehicles near the rebel capital, Benghazi, leaving a field of burned wreckage along the coastal road to the city.

March 19 The military campaign against Colonel Qaddafi was launched under British and French leadership as President Nicolas Sarkozy of France convened an urgent meeting of European, African and Arab leaders in Paris. American forces mounted an initial campaign to knock out Libya’s air defense systems, firing volley after volley of Tomahawk missiles from nearby ships against missile, radar and communications centers around Tripoli, and the western cities of Misurata and Surt.

March 18 Hours after the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action and the imposition of a no-flight zone, Libya performed what seemed a remarkable about-face after weeks of defiance, saying it would call an “immediate ceasefire and the stoppage of all military operations” against rebels seeking the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But the United States, Britain and France pushed forward, declaring that the cease-fire announcement was not enough, at least for now, to ward off military action against his forces. President Obama ordered Colonel Qaddafi to implement the cease-fire immediately and stop all attacks on Libyan civilians or face military action from the United States and its allies in Europe and the Arab world.

March 17 The rebels seeking to oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi claimed minor victories in some of their last footholds at both ends of the country’s coast as they battled to hold off the Qaddafi forces’ superior firepower. After days of often acrimonious debate, played out against a desperate clock, the Security Council authorized member nations to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, diplomatic code words calling for military action. Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage.

March 16 A day after routing a ragtag army in an eastern town near the rebel capital of Benghazi, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi launched attacks on the city of Misurata, the last rebel stronghold in western Libya, about 125 miles east of the capital, Tripoli. Government forces fired artillery, bombarding the city of several hundred thousand as tanks moved in preparation for a ground advance.

March 15 In Ajdabiya, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi routed an army of insurgents and would-be revolutionaries holding the last defensive line before the rebel capital of Benghazi. There were no signs of preparations for a vigorous defense in Benghazi itself. As diplomacy faltered over the question of outside intervention, France said there had been no agreement at a meeting of the Group of 8 powers on the contentious issue of enforcing a no-flight zone to ground the loyalist air force.

March 14 Following a brutal, weeklong battle that recaptured — and nearly demolished — the strategically important town of Zawiya, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi cranked up military and psychological pressure against rebels on two fronts, offering an amnesty to those who surrendered their weapons while bombing Ajdabiya, a strategic linchpin in the east, and surrounding a rebel-held town in the west.

March 12 The Arab League asked the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-flight zone over Libya in hopes of halting Colonle Qaddafi’s attacks on his own people, providing the rebels a tincture of hope even as they were driven back from a long stretch of road and towns they had captured in the three-week war. The extraordinary move by the 22-nation bloc increases the pressure on the Obama administration, which has been reluctant to intervene in a war that could turn out to be prolonged and complex.

March 11 Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi advanced on the strategic oil town of Ras Lanuf, a day after battering the rebels in a sustained assault by land, air and sea. The attack sent the rebels into a chaotic retreat, changing the momentum in the three-week old uprising and providing a stark illustration of the asymmetry of the conflict. The White House announced a five-point program of steps to isolate Colonel Qaddafi and ultimately drive him from power, all stopping well short of military action.

March 10 Rebel fighters fled the strategic refinery town of Ras Lanuf under ferocious rocket attacks and airstrikes by forces loyal to the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Bold plans of a westward drive to Tripoli by the undermanned and ill-equipped rebel army were dashed by the superior Qaddafi forces, which are seeking to retake several eastern oil cities that slipped from the government’s control in the first days of the uprising. Morale among the fighters seemed to be weakening, even as Agence-France Presse reported that the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, had recognized the opposition Libyan National Council.

March 9 As world powers debate measures against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, including the creation of a no-fly zone, the Libyan leader vowed that his countrymen would take up arms to resist such measures. Rebels were dealt military setbacks in Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf, part of a strengthening government counteroffensive, as the opposition’s calls for foreign aid amplified divisions over the need for intervention. Provisional leaders warned that a humanitarian crisis may loom, as people’s needs begin to overwhelm fledgling local governments.

March 8 Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi renewed their onslaught on both the eastern and western fronts, apparently establishing control of the western city of Zawiyah and conducting airstrikes in Ras Lanuf, taunting rebels with flyovers and bombing runs near the coastal city’s oil refinery. The attacks came amid reports of a possible peace offer from the Qaddafi camp and growing debate in Western capitals about imposing a no-flight zone over Libya.

March 7 Government forces began a new air attack on rebels in the coastal town of Ras Lanuf. The rebels had withdrawn to the town after troops loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi attacked them in the coastal town of Bin Jawwad using tanks, helicopters and fighter planes, and pushed them east, stalling, for the moment, hopes by the antigovernment fighters of a steady march toward Tripoli.

March 6 Militia forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi launched a second day of attacks on the rebel-held city of Zawiyah, 30 miles west of the capital, and the rebels won control of the oil port of Raz Lanuf. The rebels appointed a three-member executive committee, including leaders in charge of the military and foreign affairs.

March 5 Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces fired on unarmed protestors in Tripoli and Zawiyah, and fought with rebels for control of Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf, an eastern oil town. At least 35 people were killed in Zawiyah.

March 4 Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government widened its counterattack on its rebel opponents, waging fierce battles to wrest control of the town of Zawiya from rebel troops, attacking an eastern oil town and firing on peaceful protesters after Friday prayers in Tripoli, witnesses said. At least 35 people were reported dead, more than 100 wounded and 65 missing in Zawiya, 25 miles west of Tripoli.


Colonel Qaddafi took power in a bloodless coup in September 1969 and has ruled with an iron fist, seeking to spread Libya’s influence in Africa. He has built his rule on a cult of personality and a network of family and tribal alliances supported by largess from Libya’s oil revenues.

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