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The Libyan Civil War, also referred to as the Libyan Revolution was an armed conflict in the North African country of Libya, fought between forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi and Libyan rebel forces. The war was preceded by protests in Benghazi beginning on Tuesday, 15 February 2011, which led to clashes with security forces that fired on the crowd The protests escalated into a rebellion that spread across the country with the forces opposing Gaddafi establishing an interim governing body, the National Transitional Council.
The conflict eventually drew to a close in March 2012 ,after just over a year of fighting. Rebels fought their way into Tripoli and captured Muammar Gaddafi in his bunker along with his sons Mutassim and Saif. He was arrested and later tried and found guilty for crimes against humanity. He was executed on 17 February 2013.
The conflict killed over 25,000 people from both sides.
Popular protests in Tunisia and Egypt which led to the overthrow of autocratic regimes in those countries inspired many Libyans, who began their own protests against the 40 year rule of Muammar Gaddafi.
Early stages of the uprising
The initial protests began in front of the main courthouse in Libya's second largest city Benghazi on 15 February, which over the next few days escalated as security forces were deployed to put down the protests.
The show of force by the government backfired dramatically, enraging the people rather than frightening them, leading to even larger numbers pouring onto the streets demanding the "overthrow of the regime"
Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, were out of the streets of Benghazi and other Libyan cities on 17 February for a "Day of Rage" in which riots broke out as the people tried to force government forces out of their towns and cities. Dozens of people were killed with live fire from police and army units in Benghazi and Derna. Protesters fought back with bricks, Molotov cocktails and handful of shotguns and vintage rifles, but were no match for the police and army, who continued to massacre the protesters.
By 20 February the situation had escalated from peaceful protest, to riots, to an armed revolt as elements with the police forces in Benghazi, Derna and Tobruk joined the protesters in calling for the regime to fall. Soon an army mutiny broke out in some eastern cities as troops refused to fire on civilians.
The opposition gears up
Libyan Interior Minister General Abdul Fatah Younis was dispatched by Gaddafi to put down the uprising in Benghazi, but to the shock of both Gaddafi and the people of Benghazi, Younis defected with his special forces brigade and seized control of Benghazi, forcing out Gaddafi's loyal forces.
By 22 February, most cities in eastern Libya, as well as some towns in the west, including Az-Zawiya and Misrata, were under control of armed civilians and defecting army and police units. Gaddafi retained control of the capital Tripoli, as well as the central and southern towns of Sirte, Bani Walid, Sebha and Azizia.
Along with Abdel Younis, Major-General Suleiman Mahmoud, commander of the Libyan Army's Tobruk Garrison pledged support to the rebellion, swelling rebel ranks considerably with trained troops and heavy weapons.
In addition to this, the first defections from the Libyan Air Force were reported as a small number of MiG 21's and MiG 23's landed at Benina Air Force Base in Benghazi, giving the rebels air power which they decided to hold back in reserve for the time.
By the end of February and the beginning of March, rebels had secured control of all of eastern Libya, the coastal city of Misrata and some mountain towns in the western Nafusa Mountains. The "Free Libyan Army", mostly made of of untrained or barely trained civilians, aided by defectors from Gaddafi's army and police, launched a coastal offensive securing the important oil ports of Brega and Ras Lanuf and almost reached Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte before being pushed back by a pro Gaddafi forces counter offensive.
(In OTL, Gaddafi's army overran the town of Ajdabiya and advanced rapidly into Benghazi, which was the catalyst for the US, French and British intervention. In TTL, on March 10, the Libyan commander leading the attack on Ajdabiya was killed, and his replacement was a secret rebel sympathiser who managed to convince the 750 men under his command to join the anti Gaddafi cause. This singlehandedly halted the pro Gaddafi advance on Benghazi, allaying fears of an imminent massacre of civilians in the city, resulting in the West backing off from imposing a no fly zone)
Full scale civil war
The mass defection in Ajdabiya on 15 March halted Gaddafi's advance for the time being, and the troops who refused to defect managed to retreat back to their lines at Brega, the next town to the west. Gaddafi rushed reinforcements to Brega between 15 and 17 March to prepare a new offensive against Adjabiya. However, this time rather than poorly trained and equipped civilians he would be facing nearly a thousand defected Libyan soldiers along with their tanks and a handful of helicopter and jets.
In a further blow to Gaddafi, three Air Force pilots on orders to bomb Ajdabiya, inspired by recent defections on the ground, flew their Mirage-F1 jets straight to Benghazi and defected at Benina Air Base
The Second Battle of Ajdabiya began on 21 March as 1,250 loyalist troops backed by T-72 tanks and artillery moved against rebel positions in Ajdabiya. Two Libyan Air Force jets strafed a rebel convoy on the outskirts of the city, causing casualties and delaying reinforcements reaching the front lines. In response to this, two rebel jets piloted by Free Libyan Air Force pilots took off from Benghazi to perform air superiority roles over Ajdabiya. A pro Gaddafi SU-22 was shot out the sky before it could drop its pay load on rebel positions on the night of 22 March. The pilot ejected and was captured by rebels. Gaddafi's Air Force responded by sending several MiG-23's to shoot the rebels out the sky. The first dog fight of the Libyan civil war occurred in the early hours of 24 March 2011 and resulted in three pro Gaddafi MiG-23's being shot down, one of which crashed into an apartment block killing a family of ten. The rebels lost one of their three Mirage-F1's in combat, with the other two pulled back to safety.
Over the next three days the battle ground on, with a large tank battle on the southern outskirts of the city followed by a pro Gaddafi push into the city centre on 25 March. Rebels ambushed the Pro G forces and forced them back to the outskirts in street to street fighting.
By 28 March, Gaddafi's forces controlled the west and south west of Ajdabiya, and rebels held the rest. Occasional airstrikes and artillery duels went on but ground fighting dwindled to occasional pot shots as stalemate set in.
Seige of Misrata
As in OTL, Misrata was besieged and bombarded, but without NATO air cover, Misrata would struggle to hold. On and off battles had raged since mid February, and although a number of army defectors had joined the civilian rebels, they were still outgunned and outmatched by Gaddafi's forces. Unlike their comrades in eastern Libya who were supplemented by large numbers of tanks, and even helicopter gunships and fighter jets, the rebels of Misrata made do with kalashikovs, molotov cocktails, the occasional RPG and if they were lucky some captured armoured personnel carriers. Nonetheless the Misrata Brigades valiantly resisted, but by 5 April Gaddafi's men had taken what remained of the city centre and the port, though hit and run guerrilla raids would plague Pro G forces for the rest of the conflict. Over 300 of Gaddafi's men and double the number of rebels were killed in Misrata between 17 February and 6 April.
Battles in the Mountains
The Battle for the Nafusa Mountains were one of the longest and hardest fought campaigns of the Libyan civil war, and where the back of Gaddafi's forces were finally broken. Throughout March and April, the rebels took control of Zintain Yefren and Nalut and endured a brutal seige. This siege used up much of the regimes supplies giving rebels in other areas of the country important breathing space.