published Friday, September 9th, 2011

Closing in on Gadhafi

No one has seen Moammar Gadhafi in public in several months, but that doesn't mean the Libyan dictator isn't trying to cling to power. Loyalist forces continue to challenge Libyan rebels in a few places and the dictator used a Thursday audio broadcast -- widely assumed to be legitimate by both friend and foe -- to urge his followers to continue fighting. They did, but it seems unlikely that Gadhafi can elude capture for much longer.

Rebel forces continue to confront troops in a few towns where loyalty to Gadhafi remains strong. Thursday, for example, loyalist troops fired at least 10 rockets to rebel troops outside the town of Bani Walid. The rebels took little action against those who fired at them. They're hunkered down outside the city, hoping that town leaders -- and Gadhafi if he is hiding there -- will surrender before a deadline this weekend. That wait-and-see approach is preferable to a frontal attack that could cost many lives and heavily damage the city.

The National Transitional Council, the agency established by the rebels to run Libya until a new constitution can be crafted and elections can be held, is employing several options to apprehend Gadhafi. The Council wants him in custody because he would be far less likely to prompt an uprising against a new government than if he were still a fugitive.

To that end, the effort to apprehend Gadhafi is moving forward on several fronts. The rebels have created a special military unit that is using sophisticated methods and assistance from foreign governments -- French intelligence officers and, perhaps, a small number of CIA members, though U.S. officials have not confirmed the latter -- to track him down. Reports suggest that the unit is using wiretaps, satellite images and interviews with former Gadhafi soldiers, employees and other followers to develop useful information. The unit apparently has had some success.

One former rebel fighter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said members of the unit and other forces raided a house near Tripoli last weekend because information indicated the ousted ruler was there. Though he was not found, it appears that Gadhafi had been there and escaped less than an hour before the raid.

Information gathered at the scene suggests that Gadhafi might have fled to either his hometown of Sirte, the desert community of Sabha and or to Bani Walid, the city where Thursday rocket attacks on rebels took place. There's no certainty, though. Other sources say Gadhafi already has left Libya. The search in Libya goes on.

So does the wider effort outside that country. On Thursday, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, asked Interpol, the international police agency, to issue Red Notice arrest warrants against Gadhafi for alleged crimes against humanity. The court's chief prosecutor also requested similar notices on one of Gadhafi's sons and his brother-in-law. Both had high-profile positions in the Gadhafi government. If approved, the warrants would allow extradition of Gadhafi and others to the international court for trial. That means nothing until Gadhafi is apprehended, but it provides a framework for bringing him to trial when he is caught.

There is, at the moment, no certainty where Gadhafi might be hiding. What is certain, though, is that the widening effort to capture him will bear fruit. The quick and bloodless capture of the former dictator would suit both Libyan rebels and the international community that supports their cause. The work to rebuild Libya after decades of autocratic rule can't really start until Gadhafi is in custody.

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