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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Gadhafi Under Siege; Rebels Advance on Tripoli; Libyan Rebels Take Zawiya
Aired August 21, 2011 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: From the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Hala Gorani.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I'm Michael Holmes, good evening to you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers joining us on CNN networks around the world as we watch breaking news, history unfolding in Libya.
HOLMES: Indeed. We are following that breaking news. And we will be in the hours ahead as developments continue. It is now early Monday morning there in Tripoli.
Long-time later, Moammar Gadhafi under siege from rebel forces. The rebels say in fact that they have two of Moammar Gadhafi's sons captured. We have pictures of one of them, Saif Gadhafi.
Now the International Criminal Court at The Hague has an arrest warrant for him. Rebel forces now we are told in the heart of Tripoli's Green Square which they have renamed Martyr's Square. We heard from Sara Sidner just minutes ago, though, that some of them are pushing back with word that Gadhafi forces may be going to re-enter that part of the city.
The government actually has been saying that 1,300 people have been killed over the past 12 hours. Again, our people on the ground say they have seen no evidence of that, though. One of our reporters with the rebels say that there are in fact no signs of pro-government forces on the streets of Tripoli at the moment.
BLITZER: Yes. And our colleague Matthew Chance has been holed up in a hotel right in the center of Tripoli, with him other international journalists, a skeleton security staff. Matthew is joining us now.
Matthew, the last time we spoke, we could hear machine gun fire behind you. Are we still hearing gun fire?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not at the moment, Wolf. It's pretty quiet outside. It's strange. The ferocious clashes that we have been witnessing and hearing just a couple of hours ago sort of have diminished now. And a kind of calm has descended over Tripoli as we speak to you now. I'm not hearing anything at all. Maybe the occasional gunshot here and there. It seems that, you know, rebels -- I mean, I haven't been reporting for the rebels so I don't know what they are doing, but obviously they have been in control of large areas of the city. But as we are getting into the middle of the night here, it's 4:00 in the morning, early morning almost, waiting for day break it seems that there is still a good deal of confusion out there. A good deal of confusion about who runs this capital.
I can hear machine guns going off right behind me now as I speak to you, having said that it's all quiet in Tripoli. Of course, it all starts to break loose as I make that point. But, yes, the confusion about who controls which areas of Tripoli at the moment. It's a very confusing picture in the Libyan capital. Wolf?
BLITZER: Matthew, we have a lot of viewers here in the United States and around the world just joining us right now at the top of the hour.
Set the scene for us. Tell us what happened over the past six hours, shall we say, at this hotel where you are based.
CHANCE: Well, there have been absolutely intensive gunfights continuing between various armed groups. Of course, the Gadhafi supporters on one side. The opposition fighters as many of whom have driven in from the road west into Zawiyah.
When they have driven into the west, we have had reports of people welcoming them, they are bucking them, rather than welcoming them. I'm trying to get that word out just late at night here. Rob than resisting them has been, had been called for by Gadhafi troops.
Many people were celebrating in the streets. There were fireworks being set off. And, you know, scenes of celebration at many parts. The rebels even reached Green Square which is the central square in the middle of Tripoli. And there were celebrations as well. None of the fierce clashes. None of the fierce, ferocious resistance that was promised by the government.
In fact, just a few hours ago, when we last spoke to the government -- the Gadhafi government's information spokesperson, information minister Musa Ibrahim, he made the point again that there were tens of thousands of professional troops ready to defend Tripoli, but you know what, Wolf, we haven't seen anything of them.
I mean, there have been some clashes of course, but nothing like the kind of staunch resistance that was promised by the Gadhafi supporters in the run up to this.
BLITZER: And, Matthew, Nic Robertson is with us here in Washington. And I'd love him to have a little conversation with you, because as you know, he spent a lot of time with Gadhafi's troops as officials at that very same hotel where you are now.
And I know, Nic, you are very worried about security at that hotel and elsewhere. We are obviously always worried about our courageous correspondents and camera crews and producers on the scene for us.
But, Nick, go ahead and talk to Matthew a little bit, and ask him whatever you want.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Matthew, I remember when we were there. It's good to talk to you. When we were there, people like Musa Ibrahim had an office down stairs and all the many other minders, people we later came to know as sort of government security thugs who beat up Imam al-Obeidi, the woman who came into the hotel who had been raped. Really showed their hand of what their role really was. Really menaced the floors, occupied the building. Are they absolutely no longer in presence there?
CHANCE: No. I mean, I think the hotel if you were to come back tonight, Nic, would be very different from the hotel that you remember. I mean, I was lucky enough. I have been here for a couple of weeks, so I have experienced exactly that scene that you just painted.
Those pretty grim government minders. You know, pretty hostile to the international media. Basically categorizing us as kind of spies for NATO is how they often refer to us to our faces in a very hostile way. They wouldn't let us go anywhere.
In fact, I think, when you were here at least they were taking you on some trips. But in the last couple of weeks, those trips have really dried up. We're not really been permitted to even go out of the hotel at all.
What happened earlier on, though, Nic, this evening was a sort of sea change in the atmosphere. There were ferocious gun fights just outside the hotel. We were hearing rocket-propelled grenades exploding. Some sending shock waves through the hotel corridors and the rooms and things like that.
And there was a rumor went around that the manager of the hotel who was a foreign national, received a message from the rebels that they were going to attack this hotel. Within minutes of that rumor being circulated the hotel virtually emptied of all the government minders, of all the other sort of hanger-oners like state television which have move into the basement here after their offices were struck, and the sort of very critical ultra western media officials that was sort of in the hotel kind of using us. They will disappear with their families and left us essentially alone with the exception of a few gunmen who have been sort of circling around the hotel, and moving through the corridors, and basically, you know, kind of making themselves, you know, known to be there on the lower floors of the hotel.
So it's still not entirely abandoned. There are still security presence outside. There are still gunmen, you know, government, pro- Gadhafi gunmen inside the hotel as well. But you could count them on one hand.
ROBERTSON: And that area you're in, Matthew, if I remember correctly, there are other government buildings that we would be taken to where Gadhafi would show up, where Saif al-Islam would show up.
I know another of Gadhafi, Saadi Gadhafi, who has been picked up tonight. His offices were literally right across the road from the hotel there. It says a lot in that area that the government would normally want to keep protected. It gives the impression right now, and it's very hard for you where you are right now to get a sense of this. But it gives the impression if you have only light security on the perimeter of the hotel the rebels know the importance of that building and would want absolutely to secure journalists like yourself.
I know that they would want to make you and others there safe. That they would want to get there and secure that building. It gives the impression that a little distance, some distance from you, perhaps there is a perimeter of stronger government forces and perhaps controlling perhaps the area of the city that you're in that we know who has got the Gadhafi's presidential palace. There's big compound not far away and these other buildings that we know have been used by government loyalists and his family.
Do you get that sense that there might be this other perimeter not so far away?
CHANCE: I do get the sense that this is certainly an area that the government forces loyal to Gadhafi want to hold onto. I mean, it's patchwork right there in Tripoli tonight. Some areas under the rebel control, some under government control. But this is, you know, we spoke to the rebels earlier on. They say this is a hot area around this hotel. The rebels do not control it. They are expecting, you know, resistance when they come to approach this area. But you're absolutely right in saying, that, yes, the rebels do want to come here. There are many important installations here.
Colonel Gadhafi's compound, not the least of them which you mentioned. Also the fact that they, you know, I heard earlier on this word from the rebels that they want to come to the Rex Hotel, they want to be here so they can use the international media's facilities to make press conferences to address the world with the sort of satellite technology in the house here in the Rex's Hotel.
So this is a strategic holding for whichever side holds it. They have kind of advantage of having access to the international media here. You might be able to hear what's behind me. It's been very quiet for the past hour or so. But, you know, clearly, there were snipers around. There are government forces in sort of key areas outside these important installations.
I get the impression this is not an area the governments are going to let go quickly, but then, you know, I thought they wouldn't let Tripoli go quickly but look what happened to many parts of this city.
BLITZER: It's been breathtaking how quickly it's been going. I want everyone to stand by for a moment because we are just getting in a statement from the White House. The Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest who is traveling with the president who was on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, but that vacation is obviously being interrupted because of all the developments in Libya right now.
The statement from the White House says this, "since this morning the president has received regular updates from John Brennan, that is his counter terrorism adviser, "about the situation in Libya shortly after 9:00 p.m. Eastern time." That's about a little bit more than an hour ago. "The president conducted a conference call with senior members of his national security team who briefed him on the dramatic developments there. The president asked that he continue to be updated as necessary and is scheduled to be briefed on this topic again tomorrow morning."
The statement also lists some of the individuals who were on the president's conference call including the White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, the National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen and several others.
So obviously, the president interrupting his own vacation to be on top of what's going on in Libya.
Michael Holmes is watching what's going on. Hala Gorani is joining us as well.
Michael and Hala, this is one of the moments that the president obviously has all of the communications equipment at Martha's Vineyard in order to deal with an urgent national security crisis as is the situation in Libya right now.
GORANI: Right, Wolf, absolutely. The U.S. State Department, of course, as well watching developments in Libya. I understand Dan Lothian is on Martha's Vineyard where the president is vacationing with more.
We heard from Wolf there the statement from the White House. We heard those brief comments by the president as well. So this is happening during the president's holiday.
Now what happens in a situation like this when a major foreign policy development occurs? What happens in the president's inner circle, Dan?
Dan, can you hear me? You're on the air.
Dan Lothian --
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: OK. Sorry, I did not hear you. Can you ask that question again? Yes?
GORANI: What happens when the president is on holiday and a major foreign policy development unfolds like that? What goes into motion?
LOTHIAN: Well, you know, and this is something we have been reporting at now, on over the last several days, is that the president, when he does come on vacation, while he's away from the White House, he's very much on the job surrounded by advisers, if you will. Either in person or via conference call.
He's had John Brennan, his counter terrorism adviser here, who has been giving him updates throughout the day. And then the White House as Wolf just pointed out telling us that the president after 9:00 tonight held a conference call with senior members of his national security team.
I should just point out, though, we received a statement from the White House. This is a statement from President Obama, and I'm going to read it to you now, quote, "Tonight, the momentum against Gadhafi's regime has reached a tripping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. That Gadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing. The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator. The surest way for bloodshed to end is simple. Moammar Gadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end. Gadhafi needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all. Meanwhile, the United States has recognized the transitional national council as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. At this pivotal and historic time, the TNC should continue to demonstrate that the leadership that is necessary to steer the country through a transition by respecting the rights of the people of Libya, avoiding civilian casualties, protecting institutions of the Libyan state and pursuing a transition to democracy that is just an inclusive for the people of Libya. A season of conflict must lead to one of peace."
The president goes on to say in a statement, "the future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected and we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya and to support Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy."
So that's a statement coming from President Obama tonight. Again, repeating what I said earlier, Wolf, the president has been getting briefed on the situation in Libya throughout the day. He did conduct that conference call shortly after 9:00 p.m. tonight. He's asked that his national security team continue to give him briefings as necessary and is expected to receive another briefing tomorrow morning. Wolf?
GORANI: Right. This is Hala at the CNN Center, Dan.
GORANI: Now Moammar Gadhafi needs to, quote, "relinquish power," according to the statement by the White House. Of course the question is to go where, to do what? What would the U.S. administration like to see going forward as far as Gadhafi is concerned?
LOTHIAN: Right. Well, you know, that is always the big question. Critics of the administration have said when the president calls on a leader to step aside, and we heard this most recently on the situation in Syria, what happens next?
And the call from the president came back in February. That's when the president first came out and said that Moammar Gadhafi had to go. But that remains very much up in the air. I mean, will there be stability and this democracy and this peaceful transition that the White House wants to see there, will that actually happen? We don't know.
Right now what we know is the situation that's going on at the ground. The statement that the president has put out. The situation is fluid. And that's why I think you have seen the administration, the White House being very cautious about moving the ball any further because they are still trying to get a grasp on what is happening there on the ground.
GORANI: All right. Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent there on Martha's Vineyard covering the president spending holidays with his family. But of course this is working holiday.
This is new video coming in to us, Michael, of the road from Zawiyah to Tripoli. This is from our team who's been traveling with Sara Sidner, our reporter there on the ground. So this is new video of what do look like empty streets.
HOLMES: So much for the resistance that everyone had been pretty much counting would happen once the rebels actually got into the Libyan capital.
But Sara has moved back from where she was. She got right up to Green Square if you're just joining us, in Green Square which is surprisingly not crowded. Now she has backed away from there. The rebels were saying they were anticipating Gadhafi forces moving back into that area. But, of course, a lot of that was opposition. Sara saw no sign of that, but pulled back out of concern for safety. But, you know, there was no sign of that. But there are always rumors, there are always rumors spiraling around.
GORANI: And you call it Green Square, but I need to remind you, Michael...
HOLMES: Yes, not anymore.
GORANI: ...it is now, according to the rebels, called Martyr Square.
HOLMES: That might be Green Square again for a little while.
GORANI: It might, yes. There might be another name change in that square's future. Either way it is still a fluid situation. And it's very important to underline the fact that nothing is a done deal yet in Tripoli. There are many -- there is some speculation and some perhaps expectation, even, that this was all just a little too easy.
HOLMES: Yes, the rebels have made amazing advances over the last three weeks or so, where three and a half weeks when they -- it all started, really, when they swept down off the Nafusa or western mountains there, and took half a dozen towns in a day including Takut. And then they moved on. They moved farther down towards the coast taking Shukri Ghanem, other towns as well, and then made up to the coast. And we have been with Sara Sidner and the crew as they moved up from that key town Zawiyah right through Tripoli. GORANI: It's new video there. We'll let our viewers look at it. The road to Tripoli. The road that the rebels took today to reach the big price, the Libyan capital.
We'll continue to follow this developing story from Libya. Breaking news on CNN -- next.
BLITZER: These are pictures we are just getting in from our own Sara Sidner and her team. They are in Tripoli right now. You can see the video. You can see the streets around what's called Green Square. It used to be called Green Square. At least the rebels not call it Martyr Square in Tripoli. Not very crowded. The rebels went in. Then they pulled out, apparently they're concerned about their security. But Sara is joining us on the phone right now.
Sara, the images are powerful from Tripoli. You were right there in Green Square, now called Martyr Square. Where are you now? Give us a sense of what you're seeing and hearing.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are outside the city. We basically had to turn and run. We were following the rebels in. And one of the gentleman that was with us in the car said get out, get out now, we have information that Gadhafi's troops are headed this way. They say they have that from intelligence. We ourselves did not see any of Gadhafi's forces in the area, but we certainly felt the tension. We also got quite a scare when they said there are snipers. We also, you know, did not see snipers, though oftentimes you wouldn't see the snipers but you would see people who have been shot. We did not see that as well.
However, when we were told to leave, there was definitely fear in the eyes and these rebels definitely said they meant business. They were taking their positions, so we moved out of the Square. I can tell you that the Square picture is very empty for the most part.
I mean, what we were seeing is perhaps 30, 40 rebels who were there, most of them armed and ready to fight. We were not seeing civilians really. We saw maybe a few people who were milling about. But, again, most of them seemed to be people who were intent on fighting and staking their claim.
BLITZER: Am I right in assuming that all of the rebel forces who were at the Green Square area, they have all left or did some remain behind?
SIDNER: No, no. The rebels, 90 percent of them stayed behind. They were taking positions because they were preparing for a fight with what they thought were Gadhafi's forces pushing into the Square. We also, on our way out of town, saw dozens upon dozens, the most that we've seen so far, number of cars with rebels inside. They were all headed toward Tripoli with their guns ready.
So what they are expecting is a real battle here. And we do want to reiterate there are a lot of rumors flying, as you might imagine, Wolf, and you've been in this sort of situations where, you know, there is so much going on. There is a lot of fear, there's a lot of nervousness, but there's also the feeling of jubilation. But it's tempered because they are not quite sure what's happening with the Gadhafi regime. They were expecting thousands of professional army members out in the streets and they are not seeing them. So they're not sure what to expect, to be honest.
BLITZER: And Sara, we know that two of Gadhafi's sons, Saif al-Islam and Saadi, have been arrested. Based on all the information you're getting, do you have any clue, any idea where Moammar Gadhafi himself might be right now?
SIDNER: No. Nut I can tell you that one of the main rumors that's going around right now -- and we even heard people celebrating in Zawiya as we were leaving, because they have heard, they believed that Moammar Gadhafi himself have been arrested.
There was quite a bit of firing in the air, cheering. We even heard children and women cheering and chanting "Free Libya, Free Libya," but then that died down because everyone said, oh, we don't know, this might be a rumor, we do know his sons have been arrested. Nobody so far has heard from Moammar Gadhafi in the last hour or so. So we are all wondering exactly where he is and so are the rebels.
BLITZER: Because the rumors are flying all over the place about Gadhafi, that he's escaped to Algeria, to other countries in Africa, that he's hiding out some place in Tripoli. We are standing by to get accurate information.
Sara, hold on for one moment, because General Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, is joining us now.
General Clark, NATO, obviously very much involved in this operation. The NATO air power but ground forces as well training these rebels. What can you tell us about what NATO troops have done on the ground as opposed to in the air to help the rebel forces get rid of the Gadhafi regime?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, Wolf, it's pretty clear that the NATO forces, the French and British advisers and perhaps others are in there helping them plan and organize this, because what you have seen in the last four weeks is a dramatic improvement in the ability of the rebels to maneuver on the ground. And it's the maneuver augmented by NATO air support which could go after the heavy forces of Gadhafi.
BLITZER: All right. General, hold on one second because we got a tape of Sara doing a report. I want to just listen to her report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER (voice over): Ten minutes later after we talked to some of those in the Square who were happy to be back in their homes who had left to Tunisia, who had left to other countries for safety, they had come back to fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. We're going to cue that tape up.
General, sorry. Let's continue this conversation. We'll get Sara on the phone because I want you to talk to her as well. You were telling our viewers here in the United States and around the world that there are NATO troops on the ground with the rebels helping them. Is that right?
CLARK: No, I don't think that's actually technically accurate. What I'm told is that there are some advisers in there from national forces, but these are not necessarily under NATO command and control. They may be special forces. They may be under the British government. They may be under some other government's control. But it's clear that they have done some work in helping the Libyan rebels organize and plan their maneuver because...
BLITZER: I want to interrupt that, General. It's not -- these special forces, whether they are specifically under the command of NATO or directly under the command of various NATO allies, they haven't just been training these rebels. They've actually helped them go in with precise logistics and intelligence and information to help in this assault. Is that your understanding?
CLARK: My understanding is they have been able to provide some information to them, that clearly there's been some logistics brought in, not only -- or perhaps not primarily by NATO member-countries, but by some Arab countries involved in this. And there is a broad coalition working on the ground that is not under NATO command and control is my understanding. NATO is working the air campaign in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution.
BLITZER: All right, General, hold on for a second. Sara Sidner is with us on the phone. She is on the outskirts of Tripoli. She was at Green Square. But now they pulled back for security reasons.
Sara, do you see any evidence of Westerners aiding these rebels as they move towards Tripoli?
SIDNER: We are not seeing evidence of that. We drove quite a bit around. We went directly to Green Square, drove through the city from the west and we didn't see anyone in the vicinity of the Square. All we saw were rebel checkpoints and then rebels in the Square and that was about it.
Now, to be fair, it is about 4:30 in the morning our time so it's not a time when people would normally be out. But if we were to see anything such as, you know, certain kind of security force, we're not seeing that anywhere near the Square.
BLITZER: General, do you have a question for Sara Sidner who is on the scene?
CLARK: Yes, I do. And Sara, can you -- can you talk to people and find out whether they have pushed the Gadhafi forces back into this so-called district that is controlled by Gadhafi? SIDNER: I'm sorry. You will have to ask me that again.
CLARK: Apparently, Gadhafi's forces control one small district in the city. But are the rebel forces pushing against it or are they staying away from it? Have they probed it? What's the status of that?
SIDNER: We did hear that they were -- that the rebels say they are not in complete control, that Gadhafi forces do control a small section of the city. That much we do know. What we do not know is how they got the information that they believe that those troops were then turning around and coming into Green Square which the rebels had taken control of.
So, yes, we do know that they -- that they are not in complete control of the city and that there are parts, if not just one part, that Gadhafi forces are still in and still control. But we are not hearing the blasts, booms and bangs that you normally hear when there is a firefight going on.
BLITZER: General, it's going to be daylight -- it's going to be daylight in Libya very soon. It's 4:30 a.m. there now. What do you expect once the sun comes up in terms of fighting and resistance, if you will, from whatever remains of Gadhafi loyalists?
CLARK: Well, I think that the fighting -- I think that if Gadhafi still retains his district, I think he'll tighten it up. If there's anyone in control of that district, they'll tighten it up. They'll put snipers on the rooftop. The snipers will have better fields of view. These rebels who have been up all night, they're going to crash down and try to get a few hours of rest and reload and eat something.
And so the real time to have broken through Gadhafi's resistance is tonight. Right now. Before that line of defense hardens around Gadhafi's district. The fact that Sara says she's not hearing the shooting going on indicates to me that the rebels' attempts to clear the city are not very well organized, honestly.
BLITZER: I'm sure they are not very well organized. Is that your assessment, Sara, that these -- that these rebel forces, as they move in, they obviously aren't highly trained professional military. Is that right?
SIDNER: That is absolutely correct, Wolf. I mean, what we know is, in a really surprising turn, we bumped into someone who we talked to about five months ago when we were in Benghazi, who had never held a gun before, who was from Tripoli but has lived in Canada for years as someone who worked in IT, never picked up a gun and had to start training because he wanted to come back to his country because he was so upset with what is going on and he felt that uprising that it was about time.
So he came back here and we just met him in Tripoli. Now, he and his Tripoli brigade, as they are called, these are all guys from Tripoli, they know that city. And that's one advantage they are having. Really know the city well. But they have to start learning how to be a soldier from ex-military, from anyone who would teach them in just about four to five months' time.
And so what you are seeing is a group of people who may not have the kind of coordination that you might expect certainly from a professional army. They are definitely not a professional army. What we saw in the Square was that of panic, a little bit of concern about how they are going to deal with any kind of tanks flowing in there. What we're seeing (INAUDIBLE) with different guns welded to the trucks. But these guys say they are not leaving, that they plan on keeping hold of Tripoli by any means necessary.
BLITZER: It looks like they may -- Gadhafi loyalists may still control a small part of Tripoli but the overwhelming part looks like it's under the control of the rebels as is the country right now. And as the president of the United States said in a statement that he just released tonight, the momentum against the Gadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. The president saying Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The Gadhafi regime is showing signs of collapsing.
We'll take a quick break. More of our coverage right after this.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. We continue to cover breaking news out of Libya. Now, we have seen the images of the rebels in Green Square renamed the Martyr Square. A senior rebel leader though is warning that, quote, "the fight is not over yet for Libya."
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. CNN's Ben Wedeman has been reporting extensively from inside Libya over the last month. He joins us now from Cairo in Egypt, where he's watching these developments unfold, I would imagine, with a measure of some surprise, Ben.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, there is surprise because, first of all, we have been told by many sources within Tripoli that there was widespread expectation of a blood bath when the opposition fighters finally got to Tripoli. Now clearly, there have been casualties. But certainly nothing along the scale of what we were told to expect.
And at the same time, it really -- the speed in which the rebels got to Tripoli was far faster than we expected as well. Really, I think the critical thing was when they cut off the road from Tunisia, when they took the town of Zawiyah and Gharyan to the south of Tripoli. Basically, the capital was cut off from the rest of the world. And it was really just a matter of time before things started to fall apart in the capital.
GORANI: Ben, I just want to, before Michael jumps in again, want a reference these images that we are seeing for our viewers here. If you're watching this video, if we could run it again. Sara Sidner and her team filmed this on their way to Green Square renamed Martyr Square. And as you can see, probably in the middle of the night there, when this was shot and the streets are deserted and some parts, Sara was saying, eerily quiet and now Martyr Square appears empty once again, Michael.
HOLMES: Yes. And the team pulling back when rebels said that -- they heard that Gadhafi forces were going to reenter that part of town.
Ben, you talked about Zawiyah and getting to the coast and the western rebels and the speed with which they moved off in the Nafusa western mountains and hit the coast.
You know, not to dilute what's gone on because Sara thinks some very severe fighting at times. There have been many casualties over the last few weeks, in particular those western rebels headed for the coast. But in the big picture of it all, this is a bunch of, generally speaking, amateurs. One of the rebel commanders I was with at Biro Ghanim (ph) was an x-ray technician and he was calling in Grad missile strikes up against what ostensibly is meant to be a trained army. Are you surprised at just how quickly that army melted away in many cases?
WEDEMAN: Well, I think there was a certain amount of momentum with the opposition fighters. They were, you know, convinced of the justice of their cause and it was -- it was rough going certainly at certain points. I remember in that Ajdabiya-Brega area in eastern Libya. It was really a work in progress, and often times there was no progress. They would come under fire from Gadhafi's forces and just retreat in complete chaos.
I think what we have seen in Misrata and western Libya was a certain higher level of military confidence. It's not quite clear where that came from.
On the Gadhafi side, we interviewed many captured soldiers and there did seem to be the feeling that there wasn't very high morale among their forces, that they were confused as to who they were fighting. They didn't know if they were fighting Libyans. They were told they were fighting foreigners, members of al Qaeda, terrorists. They complained of officers who would leave them in the lurch at the front lines. They complained of shortage of the food and ammunition and very little in terms of logistical support.
So even though the Libyan army, on the surface at least, is better equipped, better trained, they didn't seem to have much in the way of good leadership and their heart, it appears, just was not in the fight -- Michael.
HOLMES: Yes. Good point, Ben.
GORANI: And Ben, thanks very much. We're going to leave it there with Ben. Ben is going to stand by and stay with us for the remaining hours of our breaking news coverage.
But interestingly, when we were discussing the Libyan -- the official -- the government Libyan army melting away, when we spoke to Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, he said, you know, don't write them off so quickly, there could be one of those Iraq scenarios, where in the beginning the insurgency really hadn't materialize and then little by little, possible galvanized by the foreign occupation. HOLMES: Live to fight another day.
GORANI: Yes. And they had other factors at play in Iraq. This is a completely different scenario. But it is not impossible to imagine a situation in which these pro-Gadhafi fighters are retreating today but in order to better organize themselves in coming days.
HOLMES: This is a very different dynamic though to Iraq. Particularly on the sectarian side of things and also the al Qaeda side of things, which built up very quickly in Iraq, post-invasion. It's difficult to see much of a parallel in that, although it makes a good point that there certainly could be -- become problematic in terms of disintegration, really, of the cohesive nature of the rebel front that we have seen up until now. This is something they call marriage of convenience -- to get there and get rid of Gadhafi.
The risk, I think, in the days and weeks afterward the Transitional National Council holding it together when everyone sits down to work this out and try to govern this country. Are they going to sit down, say, hang on, hang on, that's what I want and that's what I want and I have always wanted that and have some big falling out.
GORANI: And meantime, where are the pro-Gadhafi forces?
HOLMES: Exactly. Where are they?
GORANI: We continue to look at these exclusive pictures from our Sara Sidner and her team of their drive into Tripoli as they headed toward Green Square or Martyr Square, which now seems empty of celebratory -- or the celebration, celebrating, I should say -- had a few hours -- opposition opponents to the Moammar Gadhafi regime.
Now, the U.S. State Department is watching, of course, the Libya developments closely. And our Jill Doherty is at the State Department and she joins us now live from Washington.
HOLMES: What do you think, Jill? Is this a case of the U.S. in particular and others in NATO as well saying, be careful what you wish for?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, that is exactly what we were talking about, Michael. That now, all of the sudden, what they wanted to happen is happening. And if you look at the president's statement, it is almost as if, OK, guys, this is what you promised -- you, the rebels, now, please do what you promised.
And that is really crucial because this is the way it's supposed to play out. The TNC wins the war, wins this battle and begins to put together what is called an interim authority. Now what this interim authority is, is not really clear. It's not an elected government. It's a body that will become kind of like a government. It would keep security and it would move toward elections and those elections, we understand although it's still murky, might be six to eight months down the road.
So when you get into this interim authority, that's where power is going to be divided. That is where all of these tribal loyalties could come into play. That is where the questions of who was loyal to Gadhafi, who switched, when did they switch, are they reliable? That could come into play. That's where the oil revenues and the money that was frozen that is now going to be released, all of that becomes very difficult to deal with and potentially could be very divisive.
So, those are some of the really important issues. And the other thing, I was talking with Nic about this. The issue of Saif Gadhafi. If he is actually in custody, what do they do with him? This is a very big, really the first test for the TNC, because if he were to be killed, which is entirely possible in a chaotic situation, it would be very bad for the reputation of the TNC as a group that wants democracy.
So, do they give him up to the ICC, the International Criminal Court because, after all, he has been accused of crimes against humanity? Do they give him up? That's a test right now of whether this TNC is going to be able to move toward democracy. Very complicated.
GORANI: And Jill, this is Hala. Luis Moreno Ocampo, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, was speaking to us earlier and said that negotiations, he was hoping, would start tomorrow in order to arrange for the transfer of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi. So that's something we're going to have to follow closely. And though there wasn't direct contact between the ICC and the TNC, that through channels, the belief was from, on his part, that Saif al- Islam was being held, had not been harmed.
HOLMES: These are tough decisions. Do you keep him and maintain your sort of sovereign hold, if you like, over someone that you think is guilty of crimes against your people or is it in some way a good hot potato to get rid of to the ICC?
GORANI: The expectation is that he will be transferred to the International Criminal Court. But that said, Jill, it is -- it is an unstable, chaotic, uncertain situation. Many things have happened over the last three days nobody expected to happen so quickly. So it is, again, a situation we need to monitor.
DOUGHERTY: Right. And the U.S., by the way, the State Department really has been urging them to follow through on their promises to be democratic in this transition.
In fact, I looked back just recently at what Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, said just a few weeks ago back in July when they recognized the TNC as a legitimate authority in Libya and she pointed out four things -- democratic reform, of course; be inclusive and that includes various groups geographically, tribally, politically; uphold political obligations. And you have to say that's where the issue of Saif Gadhafi and what happens to him comes in. And then finally disperse funds transparently. And that's when the money that will be freed up and also oil revenue, etcetera, has to be transparently dealt with.
So those are very important issues for this group, the TNC, to begin that transition into something democratic.
GORANI: And it's important as well the perception of how much U.S. involvement there is in this transitional council. This is something very sensitive in the Arab world. Look, these revolutions were conducted by Arabs.
HOLMES: Organically, yes.
GORANI: Organically. And many -- and you see the reaction there when you go to the region when you say the U.S. says this or the U.S. feels that, and many of them will tell you, you know what, this is our country. You hear that a lot. You hear that a lot.
HOLMES: It was interesting in the Western Mountains region. What I was seeing was graffiti that was saying thank you Britain, thank you France. I saw virtually no thank you U.S.
GORANI: For the NATO operation.
HOLMES: For the NATO operation, for what's been happening now in Libya. And I think it's -- probably the U.S. is probably quite happy about that, I would imagine.
Would that be fair, Jill, if I want to say it that way?
DOUGHERTY: Well, just listen to what the president said tonight. You know, it's the Libyan people who were doing this. And it really is true that at the beginning it was really France that pushed this and the NATO allies eventually, the United States of course supporting it.
But the United States stood back. It supported the NATO mission but it was never the major part when you could argue, you know, physically they really were. But the lead was really the Europeans. And the United States was diffident at the beginning about the TNC. There were a lot of questions. And they did not recognize them until July 15th.
So, you know, the U.S. didn't exactly jump into this. And now the hope is that the TNC will do what the United States is hoping they will do.
GORANI: All right, Jill Dougherty, our State Department correspondent live in Washington. Thanks very much.
We're going to take a short break and we're going to continue our coverage of the breaking news out of Libya. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the continuing coverage. History unfolding in Libya now. The rebels are in Tripoli. We don't know precisely what has happened to Moammar Gadhafi, although we do know that two of his sons have been arrested. Joining us now here in Washington is the ambassador Ali Aljali of the Libyan Transitional National Council, was the ambassador of the government of Libya but he broke with Gadhafi and now represents the rebels. This is the organization that is recognized by the U.S. government, the other NATO allies and many Middle Eastern countries.
Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. First of all, give us your impressions. I know you're in close contact with the leadership of the Transitional National Council. Give us your impressions about what's going on right now.
AMB. ALI ALIJALI, LIBYAN TRANSITIONAL NATIONAL COUNCIL: This is the happiest day in my life and the people of Libya. We are very happy that the control of Tripoli was peaceful. It was with less casualties, minimum of casualties. And now the revolutionaries, they are dealing with the principles and they respect the people who have surrendered their arms and that the coordination between the TNC and the leader from the revolution in different cities and in Tripoli. And I was really surprised to be very quick and with less casualties.
We are now having a more serious job to do after this. We just -- my concern is about Gadhafi. Where is he? I do understand that he's in Tripoli. And they do understand also that there are two airplanes to lend air support. And they do understand also that probably he has not been touched by the revolutionaries. I don't know now. I cannot say that if there is any preparation for Gadhafi to leave or not.
BLITZER: Would the TNC, the Transitional National Council, allow Gadhafi to leave based on everything you know, Mr. Ambassador?
ALIJALI: Well, that's what Mr. Mustafa Abdul Jalil was saying this morning. I think he was saying that if there is an exit for Gadhafi to want to leave, that's what probably they want to do. But for the Libyan people, I think that would be very hard. And I'm sure that the TNC, they don't want to be challenged with the people. And anyhow, the main thing for the Libyan people and for me, if they capture him, that he would be safe until they deal with him either with the Libyan court or with the ICC.
BLITZER: Can you confirm that two of his sons, Saif al-Islam and Saadi, are in fact -- they are controlled or have been arrested by the TNC?
ALIJALI: Saadi, I cannot confirm, but Saif al-Islam, yes. Mr. Abdul Jalil confirmed that. And the other son is Mohammed who came voluntarily after the revolutionaries surrounded his house and he spoke to the Al Jazeera also. I watched that.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, stay with us, please. Don't go away. We have many more questions. I want to bring back Hala Gorani and Michael Holmes. They're helping us obviously cover this historic event in your country Libya.
GORANI: All right. Thanks, Wolf.
And we were speaking, in fact -- funny you should mention your country Libya because here we have an Egyptian, a man of Egyptian origin who lived for years in Libya, Sameh Abdelaziz.
All right. You have had a few hours to digest now this historic unfolding story out of Libya. And what are your thoughts now?
SAMEH ABDELAZIZ, EGYPTIAN-AMERICAN WHO HAS LIVED IN LIBYA: It's definitely historic, especially if you look at the perspective of the whole region and what happened over the last six months. Like we were talking earlier, for our generation, it seems like a dream, a beautiful dream becoming true without any preparation, if you will.
HOLMES: Gadhafi was the only leader that most Libyans ever knew.
ABDELAZIZ: Exactly. And the same for Mubarak, the same probably for the father of Bashar, right? So, the whole area is changing. The whole area, it is not guaranteed what the outcome would be. However, today, we have hope. Yesterday, we didn't even have that. And this is the most important thing that I think all Arabs are feeling tonight.
HOLMES: Are you optimistic that it can be held together?
ABDELAZIZ: I'm really optimistic because once again you look in Egypt, for example, you look in Tunisia, despite all the attempts from the former regimes, it seems like the young people have enough passion and have enough intelligence to keep coming back, in the case of Egypt, coming back to Tahrir every couple of weeks just to remind everybody that they are still there. They are willing to defend what they have accomplished.
GORANI: And it's interesting because you talked about the younger generation and I remember interviewing the former Egyptian foreign minister who said, well, I feel as a bit of a sense of shame that my generation wasn't the one to do this, my kids did it.
ABDELAZIZ: This is so real. I think I remember having tears in my eyes many, many times during the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution. And it is for this exact reason you just mentioned. Our generation regrettably either escaped or became parts of the machine. These kids, I used to see them during my vacations there. I never saw this coming. However, they proved that they have the same passion for their countries like any other people anywhere in America or anywhere in the West.
HOLMES: And a lot of them have given up their lives doing this.
GORANI: Sameh Abdelaziz, thank you for your perspective and your reaction so much.
That's going to do it for me for now. But Michael Holmes and my colleague Wolf Blitzer in Washington, D.C. continue our breaking news coverage.
HOLMES: Please stay with us.
BLITZER: You did an excellent job, Hala. Thank you very much. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.