What Are The Goals Of The Libyan Opposition?
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
As the U.S. and other countries intervene in Libya, a significant question remains: Who exactly are the rebel forces? What unites them beyond their opposition to Colonel Gadhafi?
Reva Bhalla is the director of analysis at the private intelligence firm Stratfor, and she joins me here in our studios.
Thanks for coming in.
Ms. REVA BHALLA (Director of Analysis, Stratfor): Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: Let's talk about the rebels. They are high-level defectors from the Gadhafi regime, among them a former justice minister, a former interior minister. Do those former Gadhafi officials truly represent, do you think, the rebels on the whole?
Ms. BHALLA: Well, they're certainly claiming to, but, in reality, it's a much different picture. Who really knew that a real Libyan opposition existed six weeks ago? And I think a lot of people, including the coalition partners involved in this military operation, are questioning that very thing.
And you have a sort of a ragtag bunch of individuals who are trying to coalesce into a meaningful opposition group, but there are a lot of personality clashes as well within this transitional Libyan council.
BLOCK: What are some of those personality clashes?
Ms. BHALLA: Well, from the beginning, you had this council put together, and you had the former justice minister and an attorney come together and trying to represent the council.
And there was some dispute at the beginning where the attorney said, well, this former justice minister actually has more influence in al-Bida as opposed to Benghazi, so I'm the true spokesman. They sorted those things out where the attorney became the spokesman, and the former justice minister became the head of the council. But those personality clashes actually do endure.
BLOCK: Do those personality clashes that you mentioned reflect broader splits within the rebel movement, or is it purely personality clashes, as you were talking about?
Ms. BHALLA: I think it's a combination of both, definitely. Remember, Libya at its core is a tribal society. It's a very fractious country. And so trying to cohere into a meaningful political unit much less a military unit is a very big challenge for these forces.
And even with the assistance of special forces on the ground from the West as well as Egyptian forces, it's still unclear whether they're going to be able to dislodge well-dug-in Gadhafi forces in the west.
BLOCK: What about those tribal loyalties, and how those who would manifest themselves, would they create different goals, for example, within certain factions of the rebel movement? Or are they united around one broad aim, which is get rid of Colonel Gadhafi?
Ms. BHALLA: Certainly, right now, the unified goal is to oust Gadhafi and overtake Tripoli, but that can very quickly dissipate, especially as a lot of confusion persists by the coalition partners over how far they're willing to take this military campaign.
And you can see that confusion, actually, within the opposition force where they're saying, well, we do want the no-fly zone but no ground troops. Then that raises the question: How do you effect regime change purely from the air?
And so as this goes on, you're bound to see some of those tribal divisions resurface. Those personality clashes resurface and a more fractured opposition movement overall.
BLOCK: You know, in the last few weeks, as we've watched this rebel movement come together and split apart, it's been clear that it's a ragtag bunch. There seems to be very little command and control. And when they talk about we are going all the way to Tripoli, what weight do you give that? Without any Western intervention on the ground, do you see anyway that that could succeed?
Ms. BHALLA: It seems unlikely at this point. Remember, even in the days leading up to the military intervention, the Eastern rebel forces never actually took territory by conquest. It was mainly by defection and raid. And so even with the support of Western special forces, it remains unclear whether they're going to have that capability to push all the way to Tripoli and dig out Gadhafi forces.
BLOCK: What can you tell us about Western special forces who are involved at this point?
Ms. BHALLA: Of course, a lot of that is not out in the open, but they're going to be involved in actually collecting intelligence on the ground and providing that crucial information to air patrols and those actually conducting the airstrikes. You can guess that the United States, the British and possibly the French would be most heavily involved.
BLOCK: Among this transitional council that is - that sprang up in eastern Libya, do you see a leader emerging from that who, if Gadhafi were to be unseated, could take over the country, could be a leader of Libya?
Ms. BHALLA: It seems as though the British are relying heavily on one figure in particular, the former interior minister, Abdel Fatah Younis, but, again, it remains questionable whether he's going to be acceptable overall to the rebel forces.
BLOCK: And as former interior minister under Moammar Gadhafi, you would assume this is someone who would have blood on his hands, no?
Ms. BHALLA: Yes. And that's obviously something that's going to be coming up again as you're going to have a lot of political jockeying to actually gain political power. So then - the former interior minister while he may be somebody that the Western forces are looking to, he may not be as acceptable to the Libyans themselves.
BLOCK: Reva Bhalla, thank you for coming in.
Ms. BHALLA: Thank you.
BLOCK: Reva Bhalla is director of analysis with the private intelligence firm Stratfor.
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