The civil war in Libya has slipped from the headlines and the debate about whether American participation in the NATO mission is justified, let alone whether Congress should have been consulted, has subsided. But against formidable odds, the ragtag group of rebels has been making steady gains against the loyalists and mercenaries fighting for Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi.
In their most dramatic success to date, rebels fighters this week gained control of the oil refinery in Zawiyah, a mere 25 miles from the capital city of Tripoli, and are advancing into other parts of the strategic port city. The refinery is the only one still functioning in Libra and apparently is undamaged, meaning the rebels could tap into it while cutting off supplies to the capitol.
Capture of a key cog in the Qaddafi infrastructure represents a potentially decisive turning point in a six-month war during which the Libyan strongman has defied international sanctions and repeatedly rejected calls to leave power despite defections by members of his inner circle and the deaths of two of his sons in bombing raids. Meanwhile, NBC News reports that Qaddafi and what remains of his family may be going into exile, perhaps in Tunisia, in the next several days.
Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, where uprisings have led to the overthrow of autocrats, or in Syria where a government crackdown on protesters has left hundreds dead, Libya has been wracked by what has become a war of attrition, one in which NATO airstrikes and the use of U.S. Predator drones have been key to every rebel advance.
Should the improbable become reality and Qaddafi is driven from power, it is far from clear that the rebels can form a cohesive government because they have been wracked by internal dissension and few have any civil experience.
Photograph by Reuters