Two weeks ago, pounded by tanks and artillery, the rebels lost town after town along the coastal highway that runs all the way from Tripoli to Benghazi. More recently the loyalist army also had to flee, in the other direction, down that same road. In both cases the retreating armies found themselves utterly outgunned, the rebels by Gaddafi’s armour, the loyalists by coalition bombs. On that flat terrain, on that two-lane road, firepower is everything, armies have nowhere to hide. That is about to change. The next city on the highway is Sirte and the upcoming battle for Gaddafi’s hometown may well be the decisive moment in the Libyan revolution.
Airpower is devastating in the desert. It is not nearly as dominant in cities, especially considering Nato’s remit is to prevent civilian casualties.