Kadhafi's elite forces key to Libya conflict: expert

14th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's elite forces hold the key to the conflict raging in the north African country as he can no longer be sure of the regular army, an analyst said Monday.

Kadhafi's forces have won a string of victories in recent days as they move east from Tripoli, and were battling on Monday for Ajdabiya, a key town which the rebels have vowed to defend at all costs.

Dave Hartwell, a Middle East and north Africa analyst for IHS Jane's, the London-based defence information group, said Kadhafi's paramilitary unit, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, were seen as his most loyal forces in the conflict.

"The revolutionary guard is about 3,000 strong, and we are confident that they are fighting at the moment," Hartwell told AFP.

"They have access to a variety of weapons, including battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters."

Known as Liwa Haris al-Jamahiriya, the guard is hand-picked from Kadhafi's tribal region around the central port town of Sirte, "and their main duty is to protect Kadhafi and his family," Hartwell said.

"They are pretty well knitted into the fabric of the regime."

T72s, Soviet-made battle tanks constructed in the early 1970s, are the newest vehicles available to Kadhafi's forces, according to Hartwell.

A second crack battalion, the feared Khamis Brigade commanded by Kadhafi's youngest son, Khamis Kadhafi, in theory have access to 260 of these tanks, though Hartwell said it was unclear how many of them are fully functional.

The regular army, meanwhile, numbered 45,000 before the rebellion broke out, but Hartwell said only about a third are still fighting after several thousand either defected to the rebels or "just melted away."

"Loosely, we estimate that only 10,000-15,000 troops are loyal to Kadhafi -- but this is probably still be enough to seize the initiative," Hartwell said.

Morale is probably improving due to recent victories over the rebels in the key towns of Zawiyah, Ras Lanuf and Brega, he said, adding: "If they maintain the advance (in the east) of the country, that will continue to boost morale."

A 40,000-strong reserve force -- or People's Militia -- is another, "more ideological" asset that Kadhafi can also call upon, Hartwell said.

"They are tied through tribal connections to Kadhafi. Militarily it is not considered an effective force, but they have a stake in the preservation of the status quo," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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