When an airplane stops flying fast enough to generate the lift it needs to stay aloft, pilots call it a stall. We tend to call it a crash. That’s what has happened to the Libyan rebels in the last 36 hours or so. Their triumphant ride into Tripoli has crashed onto the pockets of tenacious resistance still occupied by those loyal to longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. While that’s apparently only about 20% of the city, it includes Gaddafi’s compound, Bab al-Aziziya, in the middle of the capital.
It’s a challenge as old as war: once invaders have the still-beating heart of the enemy surrounded, what course is best? With a growing edge in firepower and the compound surrounded, the rebels could take it by force, lobbing mortars inside and bombing it into dust. Or they could simply lay siege to the place, and wait out its occupants until they run out of food, fuel and water. This could be the real test. NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie just said it will not be “practical” for the allies to provide close-air support — helicopter gunships and A-10 warplanes, for example — to aid the rebels in their bid to take the compound and other areas still held by Gaddafi’s forces. Whoever said war was “practical”?