Gadhafi's Military Muscle Concentrated In Elite Units Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has deliberately kept his army weak in recent years, but he has bolstered elite forces that are personally loyal to him, say analysts in Italy, the former colonial power in Libya.
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Gadhafi's Military Muscle Concentrated In Elite Units

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Gadhafi's Military Muscle Concentrated In Elite Units

Gadhafi's Military Muscle Concentrated In Elite Units

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And we'll continue following events here in Cairo as well as next door in Libya. Rebel forces remain under attack by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and the international community is weighing its options.

Russia has said it will stop arms sales to Gadhafi's government. The U.S. has been considering a no-fly zone, though officials in Washington are suggesting that would have limited effect.

And in Italy, intelligence officials are watching a country that used to be an Italian colony. They're examining how much power Gadhafi really has. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports on what they're learning.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: An Italian intelligence report on Gadhafi's military strength was recently presented to parliament.

Mr. ALESSANDRO POLITI (Analyst): We know very little, but we know one thing: his military machinery is not so big.

POGGIOLI: Analyst Alessandro Politi says that after international sanctions on Libya were lifted in 2004, Gadhafi was able to refurbish his country's weapons systems, but fearing a coup, he kept the regular army relatively weak.

Mr. POLITI: The real nucleus of his security is around the presidential guards, mercenaries, and few other elite units who were directly controlled by his family and his tribe or his money.

POGGIOLI: Along with an unknown number of foreign mercenaries, there are said to be four elite brigades with a total of some 10,000 men. One stands out: the 32nd Armored Brigade under the command of Gadhafi's son, Khamis. It's estimated to have four to five thousand highly trained and very loyal fighters armed with Russian-made tanks and rocket launchers.

Military analyst Carlo Jean says the other elite brigades are composed of members of the Libyan leader's tribe and another tribe loyal to him.

Mr. CARLO JEAN (Military Analyst): (Through translator) Keep in mind that Gadhafi's tribe, the Gadhafa, is made up of a million people, as is that of the other tribe loyal to him, the Warfala.

POGGIOLI: After seizing power in 1969, Colonel Gadhafi went on a spending spree - thousands of tanks, armored vehicles and cannons; hundreds of aircraft; and four submarines. In 1979 this mainly desert country with a population at the time of 2.5 million owned more fighter planes than Great Britain. Libya had also stored 1,000 metric tons of Semtex, a key element of terrorist bombs in the 1980s.

With an army of some 50,000 men and highly sophisticated weapons - and with the dream of forging pan-Arab unity - Gadhafi launched three wars over two decades and lost them all.

The Libyan army was demoralized, as was Gadhafi himself. His biographer, Angelo Del Boca, says the Libyan leader felt his people had not understood the utopian project he had laid out in his little green book.

Mr. ANGELO DEL BOCA (Gadhafi Biographer): (Through translator) When I last saw Gadhafi, I asked him how successful his green book had been in Libya. He said sadly it was a total failure. Libya is still dark, not green as I had hoped.

POGGIOLI: Dark, Del Boca says, meant for Gadhafi a country still riven by tribal loyalties. But with the army no longer trustworthy, tribal loyalties became key to Gadhafi's own political survival.

And with Libya's return to the international stage seven years ago, Gadhafi again went on a spending spree for his elite brigades.

Military analyst Carlo Jean.

Mr. JEAN: (Through translator) Libya is chock full of weapons, but we don't know how well they're maintained. Today, Ukrainians do the maintenance, but they're not as skilled as the East Germans were during the Cold War.

POGGIOLI: Italian analysts believe Gadhafi is still in control of his military machine and has reserves of tanks and artillery. He can continue to order airstrikes on rebel positions, but analysts say Gadhafi does not seem to have the logistical support to push eastward into rebel-held territory.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

INSKEEP: From Cairo, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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