News has been coming over the wires all day about a large convoy of Gaddafi forces, possibly hundreds of vehicles, arriving in neighboring Niger and some say heading for Burkina Faso.
First reports on the ground came from Mr Abdoulaye Harouna, the editor of the local paper in the northern Niger city of Agadez, who said he saw a convoy of 200-250 Libyan military vehicles pass through the town. However, there are lots of contradictory and unconfirmed reports from many different sources, which make it difficult to establish what the true story is and what its real significance is.
The BBC for example said it had received information that only 60 of those vehicles were Libyan and the rest were a Niger military escort. CBS meanwhile quoted the same editor as saying the “convoy consisted of more than a dozen pickup trucks bristling with well-armed Libyan troops.”
Casting further doubt on the size of the convoy, Reuters quoted Anis Sharif, a spokesman for Tripoli's military council, who said they knew of the convoy but "It was not a large number of soldiers. We think it was a protection team of some sort." Backing that up, Al-Arabiya TV reported that Niger's foreign minister, Mohamed Bazoum had told AFP by phone “It is not true, it is not Gaddafi and I do not think the convoy was of the size attributed to it.
Al Jazeera, in turn, was told by an NTC official that it was a “Libyan convoy of 10 vehicles carrying gold and cash.” Reuters later reported that another NTC official, Hassan Droua said he had witnesses inside Sirte, who saw a convoy of cars belonging to Gaddafi's son Moatassim leave the city, heading south after they were loaded with cash and gold from the city's Central Bank branch, though the director of the bank has denied it.
Reuters said it initially learned about the convoy from French military sources. Some say the convoy is destined for Burkina Faso, which offered asylum to Gaddafi two weeks ago. As Burkina Faso is an ex-colony of France, there is conjecture that the France may have struck a deal between Libya's new government and Gaddafi to have him go quietly into exile there.
Given the fact that NATO is scouring the desert with the latest high-tech equipment for movements of Gaddafi's troops and of the leader himself, it seems strange that it would miss such a large convoy. Some are suggesting that this wasn't an accident, but that there was an official decision to turn a blind eye to the entourage.
With the scandal now surrounding the close cooperation between the CIA and MI6 and Gaddafi's secret services anything seems possible. Certainly, the main interest of the West is securing the political and economic stabilization of the new regime and it could be that it has calculated that getting Gaddafi out of the way is the best option, if he cant be snapped up or snuffed out soon. The new regime has said that it wont declare victory and begin the planned road map to democracy until Gaddafi is caught or killed, and that could take a long time.
Furthermore, the Washington Post ran an article today in which is said that the rebels are “not getting much help from NATO, despite the alliance’s state-of-the-art electronic and aerial surveillance methods.” It described the hunt for Gaddafi as a “chaotic and...ill-coordinated effort by...competing factions of military commanders and bounty hunters, as well as Libyan commandos commissioned by civilian leaders,”
Assarid Ag Imbarcaouane a vice president of neighboring Mali and a Tuareg supporter of Gaddafi said "the Guide is not in the convoy. Rather, it's the people in Gadhafi's entourage." Mystery surrounds who exactly is in the convoy. The convoy arrived in Niger from the direction of the Algerian border and there is speculation that the rest of Gaddafi's family, who fled to Algeria last week, may have joined the convoy. It also is possible that Gaddafi's two sons, Saif and Moatassim are also trying to link up with it. The Wall Street Journal reported that French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, "We are monitoring the movement of these vehicles, and we will see."
Another small convoy also crossed the southern border on Sunday and Niger officials said it included the head of Gaddafi's security brigades, Mansour Dhao. The French military sources said the commander of Libya's southern forces, General Ali Khana, could also be in Niger and witnesses in Agadez said that the convoy today was headed by the Niger Tuareg rebel leader Rissa ag Boula, who was known to be fighting for Gaddafi.
Indeed, the majority of the soldiers in the convoy were Tuaregs. Known as “the Blue Men of the Sahara,” many Libyan Tuareg's in the south have been fighting for Gaddafi and some Tuaregs from surrounding countries also. They have a strong presence in Sebha, where they have been favored by Gaddafi and he is popular among their brethren in neighboring states because of his generous investments there.
Back on the front line, some rebels are angry with pro-Gaddafi negotiators in the remaining Gaddafi strongholds, because they are suspicious that they have been stalling, in order to gain time for the Gaddafi's sons and the other high-ranking officers to escape in the convoy .
On the other hand, there are hopes that the news that Gaddafi forces have fled the country might convince those in Sirte, Bani Walid, Sebha and Jufra to now give up. Yet again today there was talk that a settlement had been reached and rebels would begin a peaceful occupation of Bani Walid, but so far nothing concrete has emerged. There is even some speculation being Twittered that the entire thing a hoax, or at least a gross exaggeration, aimed at demoralizing Gaddafi supporters.
If it all turns out to be true, there are worries that such a convoy, full of Gaddafi's high-ranking army and security officials, carrying large amounts of money and gold, could be used to create a guerrilla base on Libya's borders from which to launch a prolonged counter-insurgency.