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Monday, August 22

Battle in Tripoli, Libya: Two different views of Operation Mermaid Dawn (UPDATED 9:50 AM EDT)

(U.S.-based) CBS News has picked up on the sleeper-cell angle (see below) in a report posted at 7:45 AM EDT. The report doesn't mention Operation Mermaid Dawn but it cites (without a link) a quote from yet another AP report (undated) that completely removes the fig leaf from NATO's 'humanitarian intervention' in Libya's civil war:
A senior rebel official, Fathi al-Baja, told The Associated Press that over the past three months -- as the fighting appeared to have stalemated -- the National Transitional Council worked with NATO to set up sleeper cells within Tripoli, armed with weapons smuggled in by the rebels.
This will be my last update to this post but bit by bit, the details of the military operation will emerge -- although if the history of NATO operations is any guide, the American public will be the last to know.
Starting at 9 PM EDT last night I switched for about an hour between CNN and FNC live coverage of the situation in Tripoli. Then for the next hour I checked in at both stations at random times. Never once did the coverage, which focused greatly on the jubilation of Libyan rebels in taking over large parts of Tripoli, mention the term, "Operation Mermaid Dawn." Nor did the retired U.S. military talking heads who spoke to anchors on both stations mention the operation -- at least, not while I watching.

(For readers outside the USA, CNN and FNC are the USA's major national cable TV news stations.)

Nor did America's major newspaper, the New York Times, mention Operation Mermaid Dawn in its latest coverage of the situation; the report mentioned only the rebels' increased "coordination" with NATO.

Indeed, the only U.S. news source about the Battle of Tripoli I've found so far that has alluded to Operation Mermaid Dawn, which was not an 'uprising' but a well-planned military operation, comes from the Associated Press newswire service, which al Jazeera quoted yesterday:
Colonel Fadlallah Haroun, a military commander in Benghazi ... told the AP news agency that weapons were assembled and sent by tugboats to Tripoli on Friday night.
That's the first time I've ever seen a NATO war vessel referred to as a tugboat, but perhaps the first reporter I quote below got tugboats confused with a warship. Or perhaps the weapons were offloaded from a NATO warship to tugboats and Colonel Haroun forgot to mention that part.

In any case the latest AP report, featured at HUFFPO news website and updated at 7:00 AM EDT, makes no mention of the operation.

And the only reference to Operation Mermaid Dawn I could find in the British press (including the BBC website) is from the Telegraph.

However, the Telegraph's account of the operation differs so markedly from the only other description of the operation I found that I'm posting both reports below in their entirety.

The first report is from the Centre for Research on Globalization, a well-known news analysis website based in Canada. The site has a strong anticolonialist slant and thus, tends to view state-backed globalization policies as a mask or rationalization for neocolonialist interventions.

The second report is from the U.K. (Daily) Telegraph; the Telegraph, while slanting to the Right (although less so since its Conrad Black era) comports in its view on the Libya situation with all other major British press including the BBC and the Left-leaning Guardian.

Note that it's not until almost at the end of the Telegraph report that there's any allusion whatsoever to sleeper cells, which are mentioned in the first report. And the Telegraph makes no mention of al Qaeda involvement in the uprising, and has nothing to say about any reports of a NATO warship off Tripoli's shore or how the rebels in Tripoli got hold of "heavy weapons."

As to which of the two reports is more accurate, Americans better find out fast.
NATO SLAUGHTER IN TRIPOLI: "Operation Mermaid Dawn" Signals Assault by Rebels' Al Qaeda Death Squads

By Thierry Meyssan
August 21, 2011
Voltaire Network
Centre for Research on Globalization

Tripoli, Libya, Aug. 22, 2011, 1 AM CET– On Saturday evening, at 8pm, when the hour of Iftar marked the breaking of the Ramadan fast, the NATO command launched its “Operation Mermaid Dawn” against Libya.

The Sirens were the loudspeakers of the mosques, which were used to launch Al Qaeda’s call to revolt against the Qaddafi government. Immediately the sleeper cells of the Benghazi rebels went into action. These were small groups with great mobility, which carried out multiple attacks. The overnight fighting caused 350 deaths and 3,000 wounded.

The situation calmed somewhat on Sunday during the course of the day.

Then, a NATO warship sailed up and anchored just off the shore at Tripoli, delivering heavy weapons and debarking Al Qaeda jihadi forces, which were led by NATO officers.

Fighting stared again during the night. There were intense firefights. NATO drones and aircraft kept bombing in all directions. NATO helicopters strafed civilians in the streets with machine guns to open the way for the jihadis.

In the evening, a motorcade of official cars carrying top government figures came under attack. The convoy fled to the Hotel Rixos, where the foreign press is based. NATO did not dare to bomb the hotel because they wanted to avoid killing the journalists. Nevertheless the hotel, which is where I am staying, is now under heavy fire.

At 11:30pm, the Health Minister had to announce that the hospitals were full to overflowing. On Sunday evening, there had been 1300 additional dead and 5,000 wounded.

NATO had been charged by the UN Security Council with protecting civilians in Libya. In reality, France and Great Britain have just re-started their colonial massacres.

At 1am, Khamis Qaddafi came to the Rixos Hotel personally to deliver weapons for the defense of the hotel. He then left. There is now heavy fighting all around the hotel.
Libya: how 'Operation Mermaid Dawn', the move to take Tripoli, unfolded

For weeks rebels promised that opposition groups in Tripoli were just awaiting the word to stage their own move to take the Libyan capital.

By James Reevell in Djerba
11:33PM BST 21 Aug 2011

Few knew whether their promises were real, or whether they had the strength in numbers or arms to make good on them.

On Saturday night, the promise was put to the test. According to rebel sources in the capital and opposition groups abroad, including in the Tunisian resort town of Djerba, "Operation Mermaid Dawn" was launched from the Ben Nabi Mosque on Sarim Street near the heart of the city.

"Mermaid" is a long-standing nickname for Tripoli.

The rebels moved just after Iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast.

A group of young men began chanting Allahu akbar, God is Great, signifying the start of a new protest at the mosque, witnesses in Tripoli and rebels said. Prayers were cancelled and all women sent home. The men then locked themselves in and began shouting anti-Gaddafi slogans.

They then used the mosque's loud speaker system, normally used to call people to prayer, to broadcast their chants across the city.

As shooting and explosions lit up the Tripoli night, Gaddafi forces arrived and initially opened fire on the mosque with machine guns, also summoning reinforcements armed with anti aircraft guns mounted on pick up trucks. The men inside the mosque were unarmed.

Local residents and rebel fighters then converged on the mosque to defend it, using machine guns and Molotov cocktails in a fierce firefight. The rebel forces were able to drive the Gaddafi forces back forcing them to take refuge in the state TV centre on Al Nasr Street nearby.

This TV centre has been previously bombed by Nato but has several underground levels.

It was still in the hands of loyalists yesterday. A woman presenter brandished a gun while launching into an impassioned speech declaring she would fight the rebels to the death if they attacked the station.

From the mosque the uprising proceeded to spread in what, from telephone reports, appeared to be a coordinated movement. Opposition members inside the capital reported that as many as thirteen suburbs within the city were actively taking part in the uprising and engaging in firefights with loyalist troops.

Multiple sources reported that fighters temporarily entered Green Square and, in a hugely symbolic moment, raised the outlawed Libyan national flag.

Green Square is the epicentre of Colonel Gaddafi's power and status in Libya, the scene of his great rallies early in the uprising and his dramatic personal appearance in the arches of the ruined fortress on its edge. It features a giant mural of the Colonel.

Local residents said Gaddafi forces had begun to use heavy weapons, including artillery shelling, against the mosque, killing at least a dozen people in the immediate vicinity.

According to witnesses one shell hit a civilian home next door to the mosque, killing an elderly woman inside. They also said that Gaddafi forces commandeered garbage trucks as a form of disguise before ambushing opposition members near the mosque.

Later in the day, as the imminence of the rebel advance became clear, opposition forces came out elsewhere.

Prominent opposition members confirmed that the rebels had been shipping weapons into Tripoli for several weeks, in preparation for this uprising.

Mass text messages were used to urge residents within the capital to rise up. The rebels do have weapon caches along with small numbers of fighters smuggled into the capital, according to sources.

Although rumours swirled among opposition supporters both in Tripoli and abroad that Col Gaddafi and his family had fled, few gave them much credence.

They were confident, though, for the first time in the conflict that this was the end, and the fall of the Gaddafi regime was near. The question they were asking was not whether Gaddafi would fall, but how many lives he would take with him.Just for good measure I'm going to include the New York Times report I mentioned above because while it doesn't mention Operation Mermaid Dawn by name it presents the U.S. government's 'narrative' of its involvement in the Tripoli battle, or 'spin' it one wishes to be cynical. These narratives can change, so I'd like to have the record of the Times account; the Times as with many other publications often updates a report on a fast-changing situation rather than publishing a new report, which can mean deletions of entire passages without mention of the deletions.
Surveillance and Coordination With NATO Aided Rebels

By Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers
Published [online]: August 21, 2011 [no time stamp but probably published around 11:00 PM ET]

WASHINGTON — As rebel forces in Libya converged on Tripoli on Sunday, American and NATO officials cited an intensification of American aerial surveillance in and around the capital city as a major factor in helping to tilt the balance after months of steady erosion of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s military.

The officials also said that coordination between NATO and the rebels, and among the loosely organized rebel groups themselves, had become more sophisticated and lethal in recent weeks, even though NATO’s mandate has been merely to protect civilians, not to take sides in the conflict.

NATO’s targeting grew increasingly precise, one senior NATO diplomat said, as the United States established around-the-clock surveillance over the dwindling areas that Libyan military forces still controlled, using armed Predator drones to detect, track and occasionally fire at those forces.

At the same time, Britain, France and other nations deployed special forces on the ground inside Libya to help train and arm the rebels, the diplomat and another official said.

“We always knew there would be a point where the effectiveness of the government forces would decline to the point where they could not effectively command and control their forces,” said the diplomat, who was granted anonymity to discuss confidential details of the battle inside Tripoli.

“At the same time,” the diplomat said, “the learning curve for the rebels, with training and equipping, was increasing. What we’ve seen in the past two or three weeks is these two curves have crossed.”

Through Saturday, NATO and its allies had flown 7,459 strike missions, or sorties, attacking thousands of targets, from individual rocket launchers to major military headquarters. The cumulative effect not only destroyed Libya’s military infrastructure but also greatly diminished the ability of Colonel Qaddafi’s commanders to control forces, leaving even committed fighting units unable to move, resupply or coordinate operations.

On Saturday, the last day NATO reported its strikes, the alliance flew only 39 sorties against 29 targets, 22 of them in Tripoli. In the weeks after the initial bombardments in March, by contrast, the allies routinely flew 60 or more sorties a day.

“NATO got smarter,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who follows Libya closely. “The strikes were better controlled. There was better coordination in avoiding collateral damage.” The rebels, while ill-trained and poorly organized even now, made the most of NATO’s direct and indirect support, becoming more effective in selecting targets and transmitting their location, using technology provided by individual NATO allies, to NATO’s targeting team in Italy.

“The rebels certainly have our phone number,” the diplomat said. “We have a much better picture of what’s happening on the ground.”

Rebel leaders in the west credited NATO with thwarting an attempt on Sunday by Qaddafi loyalists to reclaim Zawiyah with a flank assault on the city.

Administration officials greeted the developments with guarded elation that the overthrow of a reviled dictator would vindicate the demands for democracy that have swept the Arab world.

A State Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said that President Obama, who was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, and other senior American officials were following events closely.

Privately, many officials cautioned that it could still be several days or weeks before Libya’s military collapses or Colonel Qaddafi and his inner circle abandon the fight. As Saddam Hussein and his sons did in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, the Libyan leader could hold on and lead an insurgency from hiding even after the capital fell, the officials said.

“Trying to predict what this guy is going to do is very, very difficult,” a senior American military officer said.

A senior administration official said the United States had evidence that other members of Colonel Qaddafi’s inner circle were negotiating their own exits, but there was no reliable information on the whereabouts or state of mind of Colonel Qaddafi. Audio recordings released by Colonel Qaddafi on Sunday night, which expressed defiance, were of limited use in discerning his circumstances.

Even if Colonel Qaddafi were to be deposed, there is no clear plan for political succession or maintaining security in the country. “The leaders I’ve talked to do not have a clear understanding how this will all play out,” said the senior officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain diplomatic relationships.

The United States is already laying plans for a post-Qaddafi Libya. Jeffrey D. Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, was in Benghazi over the weekend for meetings with the rebels’ political leadership about overseeing a stable, democratic transition. A senior administration official said that the United States wanted to reinforce the message of rebel leaders that they seek an inclusive transition that would bring together all the segments of Libyan society.

“Even as we welcome the fact that Qaddafi’s days are numbered and we want to see him go as quickly as possible, we also want to send a message that the goal should be the protection of civilians,” the official said.

The administration was making arrangements to bring increased medical supplies and other humanitarian aid into Libya.

With widespread gunfire in the streets of Tripoli, Human Rights Watch cautioned NATO to take measures to guard against the kind of bloody acts of vengeance, looting and other violence that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government.

“Everyone should be ready for the prospect of a very quick, chaotic transition,” said Tom Malinowski, the director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

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