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Geopolitics

Exclusive: French Military In Libya Arming Tribal Insurgents South Of Tripoli

Rebels in the southern mountains have advanced on government troops, and France believes they may have best chance of reaching Tripoli, which could lead to Gaddafi's overthrow.

A French helicopter off the coast of Libya (US Navy)
A French helicopter off the coast of Libya (US Navy)
Philippe Gelie

With Libyan rebels blocked in the north, the French military has secretly begun supplying weapons to insurgent Berber tribes in the southern mountains, who are attempting to advance on Tripoli, Le Figaro has learned. During the past few weeks, the French military has dropped weapons in the Djebel Nefousa mountains to the Berber rebels, who have taken up the fight against Muammar Gaddafi's troops.

Opposition forces are stuck in the northern city of Misrata and in Brega in the east. Paris hopes the Berber insurgents' initial success on the southern front is the best chance to connect to dormant opposition movements in Tripoli. "The regime's mercenaries are not being paid anymore. They are barely fed and the population cannot stand the whole situation any longer," says a French source. "Tripoli will rise up if the rebels reach it."

Fearing a military dead end, France decided to begin parachuting rocket launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and anti-tank grenades to rebel forces on the ground. The French military is doing so without intermediaries or the participation of its allies, not even British forces. A high-ranking military source says France could rely on a particularly advanced system for the weapons drop. "There was no other way to set up the operation," he said.

Until now, weapons supplies destined for the rebels took a sometimes circuitous route: sent from Qatar and other Gulf Emirates to Benghazi, the headquarters of the National Transition Council, before being transported by boat to the port of Misrata, a coastal city caught in a long battle with forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Thanks to the extra weapons dropped in the south, rebels have secured a large zone stretching from the Tunisian border to the area of Gharian, some 60 km south Tripoli. Until now, rebels on the southern front have been progressing from west to east on a ridge that gives them a territorial advantage. But the decisive moment will occur when the insurgent forces have to go down in the plain and confront Gaddafi's forces, its tanks and heavy weapons, who stand in the way of reaching the capital.

Read the original article in French

photo - US Navy

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