Rebels Breach Gadhafi's Compound In Tripoli
REBECCA ROBERTS, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts. We're following two developing stories today here at NPR News. We'll talk about the earthquake that shook much of the East Coast...
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ROBERTS: ...in a few minutes. But first to Libya. Rebels say they have captured the compound of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli. He still has yet to be seen. His son, though, emerged late last night after news reports that rebels have captured him. Both he and his father are wanted for war crimes. It's difficult to get information out of Libya. The story is rapidly evolving. So with us for a quick update is NPR senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins. Loren Jenkins, what's the latest from Tripoli?
LOREN JENKINS: Well, it's, as we refer to here, it's a fluid situation, Rebecca.
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JENKINS: They have - the rebels - after an amazing move after six months started a move on Tripoli 10 days ago. They arrived there over the weekend. They have been battling to take control of Tripoli. Gadhafi's forces have resisted them. It's been touch and go for the last couple of days, but today, the rebel - armed rebels overwhelmed Gadhafi's central compound in the middle of Tripoli, where...
ROBERTS: And how significant is that? Why does that matter?
JENKINS: Well, it's the capital. It's like if a revolution here took over...
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JENKINS: ...the White House in a way. So it's very symbolic. It's - it was the most defended part of Tripoli by Gadhafi's forces, and the fact that they've been overwhelmed is important. It shows a sign that Gadhafi's forces aren't strong enough to hold the main fortress inside the city. Unfortunately, they didn't get Gadhafi. The battle could go on for days, weeks. And the hunt for Gadhafi and his sons, there's still a big mystery. Where is Gadhafi? He variously over the weekend aired broadcasts that were taped said he was in Tripoli, and he would fight to the end.
But he hasn't been seen. There's a lot of speculation he may not be in Tripoli. He could be in his hometown of Sirte, which is a strong bastion of his tribe or in the southern desert. There's an airbase and military compound down in the city called Subha in the south, which is also strongly Gadhafi territory and a place where strong armed supporters of his are still camped.
ROBERTS: And in terms of the forces that are still loyal to Gadhafi who are fighting these rebels, how much territory do they control? How - who's in charge of them? What do we know about their ability to hang on?
JENKINS: Well, they control less territory, having lost Tripoli and a lot of the towns along the coast in the west, which for a longtime Gadhafi had controlled. As I said, they still control Sirte, which is a major military base on the coast, halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi, the rebels' headquarters. And they control the south, Subha. How strong they are? No one knows. Who's in command? Presumably Gadhafi and his chain of command, such as it is, although it's been hammered, are still calling the shots.
ROBERTS: So no one that was spoken to has any expectation that Gadhafi would cede power peacefully? He himself has said he will fight till the very end.
JENKINS: That's true.
ROBERTS: Dozens of nations, including the U.S., have recognized the Transitional National Council as legitimate leaders in Libya for weeks now. So what is the endgame here? When is it an official change of power? Does Gadhafi have to be in custody? Does he have to be dead?
JENKINS: Probably yes, one or the other. Or he has to flee. I mean, there are three options. He could be captured. He could be killed, or he could flee and seek asylum somewhere else. Right now, he has said he's not going to leave Libya, that he will fight to the end. I think a lot of people believe that's in fact what he'll try and do. But the end of this conflict won't end with his death or capture. There will be a whole new phase, which is who rules Libya after he goes, and that's still a very open question.
ROBERTS: And continues to be a question as these different - I mean, at the moment, these disparate groups are united in toppling Gadhafi. When they lose that united cause, then maybe the differences among them become even more exacerbated.
JENKINS: Yeah. The history of Libya, it's a very tribal country, and tribe matters a lot. Gadhafi was able to play - base his power on three main tribes around Tripoli. And by lavishing great amounts of money and perks with them, got their support while he stiffs other tribes, especially those in the east and around Benghazi. So there's an element of tribalism under this, and these tribal conflicts will emerge as someone battles for takeover of the government, the new government. That's the great concerned of a lot of analysts.
ROBERTS: And what are you watching in terms of, sort of where the news progresses from here?
JENKINS: Well, that's what we're watching. We're watching to see exactly what the - what's called the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, what they do, how they're going to assert their control, are they going to be unified, are there going to be divisions?
Just two months ago there was a - the leading commander was assassinated in Benghazi. His tribe is up in arms against the tribes that assassinated him. All these issues are going to play out.
ROBERTS: That is Loren Jenkins, NPR's senior foreign editor. Thank you so much for joining us.
JENKINS: You're welcome, Rebecca.
ROBERTS: We'll continue to monitor the situation in Libya. Stay with NPR News and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED for the latest.
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