Libya: All Eyes on Benghazi (Video)

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

The Libyan people's uprising against Colonel Muammar Al Gaddafi may or may not have begun in Benghazi, but the country's second-largest city is the political heart and rebellious soul of the movement. It is home to the country's first anti-Gaddafi newspaper and the anti-Gaddafi transitional government. With once fast-charging rebel forces now under considerable attacks by Gaddafi forces, however, Benghazi could become a last stand for Libyan freedom.

‘Born in Tunisia, grew up in Egypt…now I'm sacrificing myself in Libya…my name is freedom’ – Benghazi graffiti, from Twit Pic.

On Wednesday, March 17, Benghazi saw more attacks by the air from forces loyal to the Gaddafi regime. Gaddafi himself and his son Saif predicted the city would fall within 48 hours.

Here's a few Twitter reports from people on the ground or in contact with those in Benghazi.

@bungdan: Definitely two booms +- 1 hour ago in benghazi, smoke over residential neighborhood. I have to file, but a friend should call soon. #libya

@NahlahAyed: Bombing begins in Benghazi.#libya

@iyad_elbaghdadi: So far, four waves of airstrikes on Benghazi, Benina airbase and a military base/ammo depot. Spokesperson reports little damage. #Libya

Reports came across that pro-Gaddafi planes had been shot down:

@feilefey: @ChangeInLibya my aunt in Benghazi said that one plane was shot down and two captured.

@NahlahAyed: Patrick Graham in Benghazi: people honking in celebration over downed planes. Lking forward to the UNSC vote with cautious enthusiasm.#libya

@ChangeInLibya: A total of 3-4 jets tried to bomb Benghazi today and all of them missed and were shot down. No damage at all. #libya #feb17

Here is a video, uploaded by Feb 17, 2011, that claims to show a plane shot down in a Benghazi suburb.

There's also a report of a counter-attack by anti-Gaddafi forces.

@NahlahAyed: Reports say pro-democracy fighters attacked regime forces with planes and helicopters they'd seized previously.#libya

No one dares think what Gaddafi forces will do if Benghazi falls. Ali, a young man, took part in early days of protests and was arrested on February 17. While in prison, he says, government agents severally beat him and others (including using electric shock) and eventually left the group for dead. Ali remains in a wheelchair. But the 25 other people he was arrested with — including at least one man in his 70s — all perished.

The US-based human rights organization Human Rights Watch warned that the Gaddafi regime could carry out great atrocities if Benghazi is retaken. The group, along with members of Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Fronteirers, pulled its staff out of the city.

People have also been moving desperately across the border:

@malaikamakena: 1200 #Libya ns fled into #Egypt yesterday, many families scared Benghazi to b bombed. v @melissarfleming (via @Refugees – UN Refugee Agency)

However, the city appears to be better defended than other rebel positions. Fred Abrahams, a special adviser to Human Rights Watch said:

“We know that the rebels in Benghazi are better armed and more professional, not like the other young men who ran to the front. We know the people who started this will stay until the end, but people are deeply afraid. They know Gaddafi and they know this kind of rebellion can only end in victory or defeat.”

Some commentators also claim all is not lost for Libyan freedom. From Libya watcher Fat Belly Man:

Pronouncements from Saif Gaddafi that the uprising will be over by the end of the week are repeated without analysis or criticism. Three things are becoming clear though:

* Saif Gaddafi is engaged in a psychological war against the revolutionaries and their supporters. This part of the battle has assumed huge importance for the regime and is making an impact in the West. Some politicians, especially Neo conservatives, are also using this propaganda to persue their own agenda
* The Libyan regime is engaged in subtle goading of the West. A military attack would be a tonic for the Gaddafis, it would galvanise their demoralised support and bring the indecisive back into their fold. Saif in particular understands that that total victory for either side in the uprising would be problematic for the West and is playing on those fears.
* When a sober assessment is conducted, one sees that the military situation on the ground does not bear any relation to that claimed by the Gaddafis or the media. The battle in the East has been confined within the same strip of land for days. It also has to be borne in mind that superior weapons are all well and good but it needs boots on the ground to hold territory and the regime does not seem to have the numbers needed.

This psychological war waged by the Gaddafi family is creating a feeling of helplessness amongst outside countries, Fat Belly Man argues.

Commentators in the West risk being seduced by the psychological war waged by the Gaddafi regime and losing perspective. Their calls for No Fly Zones and other forms of military intervention could result in the opposite of their good intentions and play into Col Gaddafi's han

Here's some more Twitter reports on the general defenses of Benghazi.

@GinaMombo: Law professor from Benghazi #Lybia: We are a brave people and we will fight. But we will also lose without the help of the rest of the world

#Libya revolution's envoy to the UN: We are in a good position strategically and militarily, despite the imbalance of firepower.

One Tweep asks where the defected Libyan forces?

@yqxo: @iyad_elbaghdadi Where are the “defected” military? Are they all sipping lattes in Malta? We keep seeing only untrained rebels.

@iyad_elbaghdadi: @yqxo There's an 8000-man strong elite special forces unit with the revolution, but they don't advertise their moves.

While the United Nations Security Council and NATO members debate the possibility of instituting a no-fly zone, there are some members of the rebellion who do not want to see forces in Libya.

@iyad_elbaghdadi: @bugpopper Libyans don't want any soldiers whatsoever on their soil, except of course Arabs or Muslims.


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