New U.S. intelligence assessments conclude that government forces, already beset with morale problems and a steady stream of defections, are now hard-pressed to find fuel for military vehicles after rebel troops shut down a key pipeline. If current trends continue, loyalists troops will run out of fuel by summer’s end, and the Gaddafi government will face a worsening cash and credit shortage because of international sanctions, the reports say.
While the momentum has generally favored the rebels for weeks, Western analysts are seeing troubles escalate on the loyalist side, possibly explaining the surge of interest in finding a negotiated end to the fighting, according to two senior U.S. officials who have seen the assessments.
“There has been a shift,” said one of the officials, who insisted on anonymity in discussing the classified reports. “The situation is looking much better [for the rebels] than it was just a month ago.”
This official, who said he had been generally pessimistic about rebel prospects since the start of the fighting in February, said he was “starting to be slightly optimistic” about the chances for either a political solution or a complete collapse of the Gaddafi government in the coming weeks.
A senior European diplomat echoed the U.S. view and said there were multiple signs — including intercepted communications between Libyan officials — that Gaddafi insiders were looking for an exit.
“It’s not just the signals they’re sending publicly, but also what we know through other means about their state of mind,” said the diplomat, who also requested anonymity in discussing his government’s internal assessments. “In the last couple of weeks it appears that [Gaddafi] is less willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power.”
The overtures by Gaddafi aides were described publicly by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who said in a French radio interview that the regime was “sending messengers everywhere — to Turkey, to New York, to Paris” — to explore ways to end the conflict.
“We are receiving emissaries who are telling us: ‘Gaddafi is prepared to leave. Let’s discuss it,’ ” a Reuters news report quoted Juppe as saying. Juppe described the outreach as “contacts” but not formal negotiations.
In Washington, the State Department confirmed that the Obama administration had received similar messages. But spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that Gaddafi had not yet met the conditions to bring the conflict to an end.
“We are seeing the same thing that some of our Western partners are seeing,” Nuland told reporters Tuesday. “But unless and until we are sure that the conditions of [U.N. Security Council Resolution] 1973 can be met, and that he understands that it’s time for him to step down, we don’t have a solution.” She referred to a U.S.-backed measure calling on Gaddafi to halt attacks on civilians and withdraw his forces to their barracks.