How big a blow for Qaddafi is the defection of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa? Does this mean the regime is crumbling? Will it trigger more defections?
High-level defections are always a serious blow to a regime in danger. First of all, there are certain factors that need to be taken into consideration to understand how great the fallout could be. A defection can have a variety of effects depending on the rest of the loyal group. Defections tend to be more accepted if people share a common sense of reality than if people do not. Also, defections are perceived negatively by the hardcore group if they seek status quo and reject change. In the case of Libya, it is important to keep that in mind. Arguably, the people that have stick with Gadhafi are believers, hence have a little sense of reality and do not want the status quo to be jeopardized. It may have the unexpected effect of strengthening the core rather than weaken it. Besides, contrary to many in the Gadhafi’s close circle, he is not a family member. Further defections could be expected, but Kusa had the unique privilege of being able to leave the country for professional reasons, which allowed him a way out. It is far too late for anyone too close to Gadhafi to defect to the rebels without being killed on the spot.
His defection may bring the coalition some invaluable information. First of all, he was the head of the Intelligence services for fifteen years until 2009, so he has a deep knowledge of the regime capabilities. Second, he knows the players, the sensitivities, which could be valuable for intel services to trigger negotiations with those people or for diplomatic initiatives to target those people.
Do you have any information on secret U.S. Operations to aid the Libyan rebels? Do you know of any foreign special forces operating in Libya?
It is unlikely that foreign SF are on the ground. It would violate the political commitments made, and the coalition is too fragile. I would imagine that SF would come along with weapons provided to the rebels, which has not happened yet. However, it does not mean that planning is not ongoing.
It is very likely nonetheless that operatives are on the ground. The coalition has received HUMINT to conduct close air support, and I doubt it came from the rebels. In addition, a U.S. pilot has been rescued, again I doubt it was by rebels. I would not speculate on the nationality though. The Times talked about CIA and MI6; I would not be surprised if the DGSE has some too. One development that could be interesting in this respect is the decision to send an ambassador to Benghazi. Such a move necessarily entails some DGSE agents (actually, it appears the GIGN has been tasked to take responsibility on this one). Whether they would be assisting the rebels in any capacity however is hard to anticipate. Let say, at least not now.
How serious are the rebel setbacks of the past two days?
The setbacks are a testimony of the terrible disorganization of the rebels. They keep claiming that they lack the adequate artillery to compete with the army. That may be true, but their lack of organization and incapacity to perform with light weapons is actually the reason why they have not been able to maintain their position and capitalize on their initial gains. As long as they do not improve their tactical skills, there is no way they can overcome the loyalists. They rely far too much on airstrikes, but airstrikes will not take place in urban populated areas. The problem is that the loyalists are narrowing down on Benghazi and on the coast, the cities are closer to each other.