Return to Transcripts main page


Rebels Take Over Tripoli; Gadhafi Under Siege

Aired August 21, 2011 - 23:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Holmes at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. We welcome our viewers joining us on CNN networks around the world as we watch breaking news, in fact, history unfolding in Libya. And, that breaking news, of course, is that the rebels have reached the Libyan capital.

It's now early Monday morning there. The long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi under siege from rebel forces in his capitol of Tripoli. He said they'd never get there. They are there. Plus a new video now from the CNN crew as they rolled into the heart of Tripoli and you can see they did so without any resistance. Rebels tell our CNN correspondent Sara Sidner they don't have complete control of the city, in fact, far from it. They have control of areas of it.

They are also fearful that pro-Gadhafi troops were actually heading back to Green Square, that iconic place. They warned the CNN crew to leave for their own safety even though the crew had not seen any of those troops and so here's Sara Sidner to explain for herself.

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right now what is happening is everyone is sort of (INAUDIBLE). We are (INAUDIBLE) here in the middle of Tripoli. What we are seeing is rebels all over the square. There are really no civilians, mostly men with guns in the square but we're also seeing people running. There's a lot of gunfire. They say they are snipers. We all had to pull back. Situation very tense here but there is a lot of celebrating going on.

Some of this is just gunfire in the air but people are very, very concerned because they say there were snipers posted on the tops of some of these buildings. They are not sure exactly where some of this gunfire was coming from so every now and then you see people just running trying to get out of the way but, right now, the rebels have Green Square and it is a historic moment here in Tripoli in the capitol, the real stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi has now been taken over by the rebels. Sara Sidner, CNN, Tripoli.

HOLMES: And we will be speaking with Sara Sidner momentarily live and she is going to give us an update on what happened there in the minutes after she taped that. Now, just moments ago and meanwhile the President, the U.S. President Obama, issued a statement saying the opposition to Gadhafi had reached what he called a tipping point, the President adding this, "Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The surest way for the bloodshed to end is simple. Moammar Gadhafi and his regime need to recognize that their rule has come to an end." Now, the rebels say, meanwhile, that two of Moammar Gadhafi's sons have been captured. That's one of them there on your screen now, Saif Gadhafi. The International Criminal Court of The Hague actually has arrest warrant for him and his father, Moammar Gadhafi, and one other member of the regime as well. Now, my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, takes over from here. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much Michael.

Matthew Chance has been watching all of these events unfold from a hotel in Tripoli that has come under fire. It's been at the center of a lot of activity. He has been holed up there with other international journalists. Matthew, set the scene for us. First of all, are you hearing gunfire?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, we're not. I certainly think that the very intensive gun battles that we've witnessed over the course of the past several hours has come to an end. There were obviously fierce firefights for control of certain areas of Tripoli. Those firefights now appear to have come to a conclusion. What we don't know is, you know, who's been left in control of which areas of Tripoli. The rebels have already said that they don't control the whole of Tripoli.

The battle for the Libyan capital is not over yet and we understand that the control of the area around this hotel is still very much in the hands of pro-Gadhafi forces and that's hardly surprising though it's not just this hotel here. Colonel Gadhafi's compound is just a short distance from here as well as the offices of some of the senior officials including Colonel Gadhafi's sons in this area. So, it's -- it's a key area in the center of Tripoli. It still remains in government hands but the situation at this hotel has changed quite dramatically.

Over the course of the past several hours the government minders, many of them heavily armed, essentially fled the hotel, at least left us here on our own, just leaving a skeleton security staff on the outskirts of the perimeter with some gunmen as well patrolling the hotel grounds but none of the government's officials that had been here previously, including the main government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, he's no longer in the hotel either as far as we know.

And, so, the situation is very sketchy. We've seen these reports from our own Sara Sidner and from others as well about how the rebels were welcomed into certain areas of Tripoli, about how there were celebrations when they entered. None of the resistance that we thought they were going to be met with. And, so, the big question now, the big mystery, is what happened to the tens of thousands of loyal Gadhafi troops who Colonel Gadhafi, himself, just a few hours ago said would fight until the death to defend the Libyan capitol. Wolf?

BLITZER: The -- the whole notion of Moammar Gadhafi, we don't know where he is, the ambassador, the Transitional National Council's ambassador here in Washington, Ali Aujali, just told he doesn't know where Gadhafi is. Do you know, Matthew, if there are -- if there's an airport and a plane that he might have access to that would enable him to flee Libya at this point? Do you have any information along those lines?

CHANCE: Well, it's a tough one because there's -- there's a no fly zone, of course, being -- being policed by NATO across Libya so it's unlikely that he'd be able to slip away from the country by air without NATO being aware of that and there's been lots of rumors over the course of the past several weeks, in fact, that Colonel Gadhafi is planning to seek sanctuary in a surrounding Arab country, for instance, in Algeria, in Egypt, in Tunisia, perhaps. There has been speculation he may go to South Africa where has long-standing contacts and, as well as South America, Venezuela has been mentioned as a possible best nation.

But, all of those rumors have been categorically denied by government officials that we've been speaking to, certainly, up until this point. And -- and, you know, publically, Colonel Gadhafi, even tonight, was saying that he would stay in Tripoli, that he would fight this -- this invasion, you know, personally and called on Libyans to -- to march to Tripoli to defend the city and to do the same.

BLITZER: Well, he must have -- he must understand, I assume, Matthew, that if he's captured by these rebels they will arrest him and who knows what they're going to do to him. I'm sure they're not going to just simply give him up after all the -- the thousands of people who have died and just let him fly off to some other country.

CHANCE: Well, who knows? I mean, obviously there's an indictment against him at the International Criminal Court in Hague. We understand that the ICC has already been made aware of the detention of Saif Gadhafi and, presumably, the ICC, the International Criminal Court, will be looking for Colonel Gadhafi as well. And, you know, in some ways, Wolf, it's not a bad option for Colonel Gadhafi because you're right, on both sides in this conflict, there's a degree of, you know, there's a degree of savagery and -- and who knows what would become of Colonel Gadhafi were he to be kept in Libya.

Perhaps, you may see a trip to the International Criminal Court at The Hague as a good option for him. Certainly, the window of opportunity that he may have had to escape into exile in exchange for some kind of peace deal, that window seems to have closed with all of these rebel advances that have taken place over the course of the past, you know, 24 hours, 12 hours even, so dramatically.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're absolutely. I think that window has closed but we shall see. Don't go too far away Matthew. We're going to come back to you. I want to bring back Michael Holmes. He's following what's going on. Michael, you were just there not that long ago in Libya. Could you possibly imagine the Libyan people giving up Gadhafi, letting him go live in exile someplace at this point given the bloodshed that has occurred in Libya over these months?

HOLMES: It would be very difficult to understand or to imagine that happening, Wolf. I, certainly, -- the rebels that we -- that I was with for two and a half weeks or so up until a week ago, they were very much looking forward to putting him on trial. That was what they all said. There was no suggestion that they would happily put him on a plane and send him out of the country. Of course, it's problematic though to put him on trial or would they give him up to the International Criminal Court, it becomes very much a diplomatic minefield for them.

But, yes, they certainly -- there was plenty of anger among those that I was with in the western mountains area of Libya and they were talking trial, not escape. I want to go to Nic Robertson now. He's live in Washington where you are wolf. Nic, you've spent so much time there and all over the country really, but, Tripoli, in particular. We've been hearing Sara's reporting from there. Can you just draw us a bit of a mud map of this place and where the hotel is that the media is being basically kept prisoner in for much of the time, where Green Square is, where these troops are coming in from, how big is the place? Give us a sense.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tripoli itself is a very large city. The country has 6 million people, about 2 million under normal circumstances live in Tripoli and it would take you, on a good day without any traffic using the main highways, and it does have a sophisticated network of -- of modern highways that go through the city along the coast, through the center of the city, would take you maybe half an hour to drive across the whole length of the city.

You've got a military air field, perhaps about 10 minutes drive away from Gadhafi's normal main compound. You have the international airport where so many people were stranded trying to get out of the country when -- when the revolution began back in February. That would be harder for him to get to. It's on the outskirts of the city, on the west side of the city. That's perhaps a 20 minutes drive away.

But, if you look at Green Square where Sara was, now called Martyr's Square by the rebels, if you look at that and when I hear Sara describe the situation there and -- and the -- and what she was hearing from the rebels, a possibility of -- of snipers and -- and the government forces moving back in there, there would be times the government would take us to Green Square to see demonstrations.

One morning where there was a huge amount of gunfire it seemed that all the Gadhafi loyalists were coming out on the streets with their weapons which gave us an -- an amazing opportunity to see all the Gadhafi military and police strongholds. It's about, without traffic, maybe a 10-minute drive from the hotel where Matthew is two or three miles to Green Square, to Martyr's Square.

But, as we left -- but as we left Martyr's Square on that particular day of all the celebratory gunfire, just a few hundred yards away there was a police station, a Gadhafi loyalist police station, and a little bit beyond that another military base and in the area where Matthew is a number of military bases that we would only know as military bases. You couldn't see over the high walls. We'd only know that because you would see men in uniform outside the gates, pumping, firing their weapons into the air.

So, a lot of military bases and police bases in the area of -- of Green Square as well as scattered throughout the city but I -- I think facing the rebels right now one has to contemplate the number of rebels and the size of the city, the east of the city much more favorable to the rebels there. There's a much greater base of anti- Gadhafiism, if you will in the east of the city.

HOLMES: And -- and one, of course, big question is with these bases here, there, and everywhere around that area, where -- where are they at the moment? I know that's an impossible question to answer from where you're sitting but I remember when Ivan was there, Ivan Watson was there and he was there for some time. He would get those whispers when he was out on those trips or he'd sneak away and -- and get to talk to people and get a different sort of sense of what you'd get on the official tour. Did that happen with you as well?

ROBERTSON: It -- it did. I mean, two or three minutes drive away from the hotel we went into -- we certainly went into people's houses who were absolutely anti-Gadhafi. You could go out on the streets and right outside the hotel find people who were anti-Gadhafi. They just couldn't show it. They couldn't show it publically. The certainly didn't have the weapons to -- to stand up and fight against the regime at that point. So, they're all scattered throughout the city. It's -- it's the east, Tajura, where there are large military bases, bases that we saw in the early days of the NATO strikes, their radar facilities, the bases themselves, the buildings on fire, smoke billowing out of them after NATO strikes.

But -- but one of the things here is that you can expect some Gadhafi units to have quit, run away, put down their weapons, hidden, and some you can expect to be, perhaps, this area that -- that we were hearing about before that the rebel -- that the government may still control in the city, trying to solidify a grip on that and minimize the momentum that the rebels have to try and overrun it quickly. Michael?

HOLMES: Yes. All right Nic, we'll check in with you a little bit later. Nic Robertson there giving his expertise from time on the ground, much time on the ground. Over to you Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he knows the subject as do you, Michael. Thank you very much.

Let's bring back the Libyan Ambassador here in Washington. Ali Aujali is the Libyan Ambassador from the Transitional National Council which represents the opposition to Moammar Gadhafi. At one point, he was Libya's ambassador to Washington but he broke with Gadhafi, went with the opposition, and now he's recognized by the State Department as the Libyan Ambassador in Washington.

Is that correct Mr. Ambassador?

ALI AUJALI, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR: Well, of course, yes. You formed this very, very well Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: I want to make sure that we're precise right now. The reports that we're getting, Mr. Ambassador, that Moammar Gadhafi may be holed up in that Presidential compound in Tripoli. Now, you know this area well. It looks like the rest of Tripoli is pretty much under the control of rebels right now but he's got his supporters, he's got his military elements who are with him. How big -- how big of a deal would it be to get into that Presidential compound, assuming he's somewhere hiding in there?

AUJALI: You mean the (INAUDIBLE)?


AUJALI: The (INAUDIBLE) is maybe just a few minutes from the center of Tripoli. It is very close to Tripoli. It is walking distance even, you know.

BLITZER: Could they -- could the forces get in there?

AUJALI: Not yet. Not yet. They don't -- I think the instruction they have not to come near that -- that place yet because (INAUDIBLE) has not been attacked by the revolutionists until this moment.

BLITZER: So, do you believe that's where Gadhafi may be hiding?

AUJALI: I doubt it very much. I think he -- of course he has a very good shelter there and it is underground and it has been built for a long time and he has all the facilities, all of the communication and nobody can tell you exactly where is Gadhafi now, there are so many news that he is near the mountain west of Tripoli, some people they say maybe he's heading to the south of Tripoli with his Chief of The Intelligence. At the moment, there is nobody that can tell you exactly where is he.

BLITZER: But you, generally, have been very obviously very pleased but also surprised at how quickly Gadhafi's forces in -- in -- in Tripoli seem to have simply given up. Isn't that right?

AUJALI: Yes, I am and I am really surprised but my surprise I can explain it to you because a few things, I think the -- the -- when the revolutionists they came to Tripoli they came to a friendly environment. The Tripoli (INAUDIBLE) they are with them, they are completely against Gadhafi who put them under siege for the last six months and those are the coordination between the TNC and the leaders of the revolution it is -- it is a great thing and (INAUDIBLE) the executive of -- of the -- of the TNC he made it very clear that they took all the necessary arrangements and they are ready for any surprise. I am very happy to see that minimal casualties and the regime has collapsed very quickly and we have a great job we have to do in front of us.

BLITZER: What did you think of the statement that President Obama issued tonight. I'll read a line or two from it. "The momentum against the Gadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant." And then it goes on to say he needs to relinquish power once and for all, referring to Moammar Gadhafi. Are you satisfied with what the U.S. Government's position has been?

AUJALI: Yes I am. Yes I am. Without your help, without your support we would not reach this, not only of course the United States, but the Qatar and the Emirates and the NATO active member and without this support the Libyan people would remember for the rest of their lives would not be there, we would not be here today in Tripoli celebrating the collapse of the regime. But we still need more from United States and from our alliance and from our Arab brothers.

BLITZER: What do you need?

AUJALI: Of course we need from our -- we, of course -- it -- it is a very serious period now. We need more money, we need budget, we need to have access to the frozen money, we need the Arab countries to recognize the councils now. They have no more reason, they have no more excuse. We need to protect our borders, which is very important. We need training of our security forces. This is very important issue. We don't know this man as far as he's at large what he's going to do. When we catch him, I think the thing that would be more promising, more easier in my view.

BLITZER: Once you capture Moammar Gadhafi and show the world that he's -- he has been arrested by the Transitional National Council your forces. Mr. Ambassador I hope you can stay with us. We have more questions. We're going to be going back to Sara Sidner. She's in Tripoli right now, Matthew Chance is in Tripoli. We're going to check in with all of our reporters and I'm sure they want to ask you -- maybe you want to ask them a question as well, the Ambassador of the Transitional National Council, the Libyan opposition to Gadhafi, Ali Aujali is going to stay with us. Our coverage will continue right after this.


HOLMES: Back on to our continuing coverage of what's been going on in Libya and much has been going on. CNN's Sara Sidner actually traveled with the rebels from Zawiya in Libya's west of the capitol, Tripoli, today.

BLITZER: And she was near Tripoli's Green Square earlier this evening. Now the rebels are calling it Martyr's Square. Sara, what's going on now?

SIDNER: What I can tell you is that we were in that square where rebels had taken control of the square but there was quite a bit of nervousness as we got closer and closer to the city center because they were talking about they believed there were snipers. They have not actually been able to clear the area completely. They weren't sure what exactly they were dealing with. We didn't see any civilians when we got there really. It really was mostly armed men who were in that square. Somewhere 30-40 people, maybe more, a little bit sort of around the side of the square and kind of waiting, a little bit hesitant and then suddenly everyone began to run.

Everyone was yelling sniper, sniper, get down so we all ran back behind the pillars of the square there. Really, amazing that we were in that square, I have to tell you from the perspective of having covered this conflict early on that I don't think even the rebels tell us they didn't believe they would be getting to Tripoli this quickly and certainly not from as many different vantage points as they were able to get into the city but, indeed, today a historic moment. They made their way into the main square of Tripoli, Gadhafi's stronghold, the capitol of this country and they intend to try and hold it. Wolf?

BLITZER: Is it your sense, based on what you are seeing that there are still some pockets, at least one significant pocket around the Presidential compound that is under the control of Gadhafi's forces?

SIDNER: We're not sure exactly where Gadhafi's forces are but the rebels made it very clear to us, because they told us we have to get out, that they believe that Gadhafi forces were coming towards that main square, towards what was Martyr's Square, now they want to change the name back to Martyr's Square from Green Square, which Gadhafi changed the name when he came into power. They said that they believed that Gadhafi's forces were coming toward that square in five minutes and we had to get out fast so we did.

They did -- they were very clear in saying we do not control all of Tripoli. We are unable to control it at this point in time. We are working on it. We are trying to clear buildings and that sort of thing but we do not have control of this entire city. A very eerie place, I have to tell you, though it was about 3 o'clock in the morning when we first rolled into the city and, so, as you might imagine there weren't people milling about, naturally, at that time.

But, there was no traffic whatsoever and this is a large city, the capitol of this country, all roads basically leading to the capitol. What we were seeing was just trucks filled with men, many had guns, and they were all heading towards Green Square and so you're really seeing a situation where, I think, the civilians certainly have gotten scared. You -- you know, early on, Matthew Chance reporting there from the hotel, the Rixos hotel where all of the media has been, lots of loud booms and blasts but when we got there it was silent except for the rebels yelling Free Libya, Free Libya. Wolf?

BLITZER: And -- and right now it's what? Approaching (INAUDIBLE) a.m. where you are in Libya so it's going to be daylight pretty soon. I don't know if that takes on a different -- a different concern for the rebels as opposed to your fighting in the middle of the night. What are they saying about what's going to happen once the sun comes up?

SIDNER: They're taking a stand and they're preparing for a fight. They don't know exactly what that fight is going to look like and that's the problem here. There's a lot of uncertainty, the coordination seemed a little off there in the square. When people start running willy-nilly all over the place and they haven't actually looked at where they can be to be in a safe spot, you get the idea that the coordination isn't as good as they thought it might be.

However, when we were leaving the city, we saw dozens of trucks and cars coming into the city and we were hearing from rebels saying they were coming from all over, from the east, from the west, from the north, from the south, all coming into the capitol to help with this fight. I said, "Are they all armed?" And they said no, some of them aren't armed. That would be a problem if Gadhafi's army is there with its tanks, is there with its mortars, is there with its AK47s, Kalashnikovs. It would be a problem if there are people that are just milling about that aren't armed that don't really know the city that well.

So, a concern there certainly. But, Wolf, I want to mention this. I -- I don't know if you remember this story. Very early on on your show, your show was the first show to run it, we did a story about these fellows who had come from different parts of the world. They were Libyan residents who had decided to come back and they called themselves the Tripoli Brigade. One of them was an IT guy who had never held a gun from Canada. We just saw him. He made his way all the way from Benghazi to Tripoli and the excitement in his eyes was very apparent. He was excited but he was nervous and then he said he was getting prepared because he believed that Gadhafi forces were coming back into the city and that there was going to be a real fight tonight. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, these people believe that they're liberating their country. Sara, you filed a very dramatic report for us on video tape. I'm going to play it right now and then we're going to discuss it so let me roll the tape right now.


SIDNER: Right now, what's happening is everyone is (INAUDIBLE) . We are in Green Square, here in the middle of Tripoli. What we're seeing is rebels all over this square. There are really no civilians, mostly men with guns in the square but we're also seeing people running. There's a lot of gunfire. They say there are snipers. We all had to pull back. The situation is very tense here but there is a lot of celebrating going on. Some of this is just gunfire in the air but people are very, very concerned because they say there were snipers posted on the tops of some of these buildings. They're not sure exactly where some of this gunfire is coming from. So, every now and then you see people just running, trying to get out of the way but right now the rebels have Green Square and it is a historic moment here in Tripoli in the capitol. The real stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi has now been taken over by the rebels. Sara Sidner.


BLITZER: All right, Sara, you were wearing a helmet, a flak jacket. You're not wearing either right now so, obviously, you're feeling a lot safer than you were when you were in Green Square or Martyr's Square as it's now being called. I assume it's much safer where you are right now, right?

SIDNER: Absolutely. You're always very observant, Wolf, and you did notice that I did take those things off not necessarily where we are now. It was necessary where I am standing right now just 48 hours ago. We are in Zawiyah just about a 30-mile drive from Tripoli. We came back to this post. We know it. We know the area. We know it's relatively safe here. Just 48 hours ago, there were mortars falling and there were shelling falling into this town. And now it's completely quiet. We can actually hear the roosters crowing.

So we know rebels have taken their fight all the way to Tripoli. There were dozens of cars that I mentioned as we were coming back into this city. Dozens of cars going the other way, flying towards Tripoli, trying to get there because they want to have as many people as they possibly can, even though some of them are not quite well equipped to take on a professional army. They want to have as many men as they can in that city to try to rid that city of the Gadhafi regime and Gadhafi forces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. These Libyan rebels want to be able to tell their children and their grandchildren someday they were there in Tripoli when they got Gadhafi and they overthrew his regime.

Sara, don't go too far away. We have more to discuss and report on. Let me go back to Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks, Sara.

Well, U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham sent out a press release tonight stating, quote, "The Libyans have won their freedom." That remains to be seen whether this is truly the end for the man who has ruled for 42 years, and certainly looking that way.

Joining us now from our Washington bureau is Mike Barrett. He is a former director of strategy for the White House Homeland Security Council.

Mike, first of all, what that involved was a lot of risk assessment. What could go wrong now?

MIKE BARRETT, FMR. WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SEC. COUN. MEMBER: Well, I think, obviously, the first question we have to think about is who is going to be in charge of this after, you know. You don't just look at the day of the revolution. You have to look at the day after. We don't really know the identities, the affiliations, the tribal allegiances, the propensities towards terrorism or supporting a variety of international crimes and other things that whoever ends up in charge in Libya may actually have.

You could certainly end up with a fractious stage sort of like what we started to see there in Iraq. We have a north, a south, an east and a west, and they sort of fragments and you end up with pockets of instability.

And so from a U.S. point of view in terms of our own interest, you know, we have a specific interest obviously in peace and stability. But we also have a prevailing interest in making sure that this doesn't become any kind of a haven for al Qaeda.

BLITZER: It becomes a thing of be careful what you wish for. I mean, it was Gadhafi must go. But there is a total lottery on really what's going to happen and who replaces him. I mean, the odds of chaos is certainly to be considered.

BARRETT: They are. And one of the things about Gadhafi is he was, you know, he was in power for 42 years. So he's obviously a smart enough person. He was also a bit insane. I mean, most people who met with him or listened to his comments, follow him over the years, would tell you he's clearly not right in the head. But he was stable enough.

And so that was really the challenge at the end of the day is to say we have this, throughout the Middle East right now, we have a huge amount of turmoil going on. What's going to happen in Yemen? What's going to happen in Somalia? What's going to happen in Syria?

And so, you know, we have all of these different balls juggling in the air right now. Obviously, I think the world is a better place without Gadhafi in charge, but, on the other hand, I do think we have to be wary of what tomorrow holds.

HOLMES: And then it's more -- perhaps more it's a case of the risk of everything becoming fractured as you describe rather than the risk of al Qaeda. Are you really -- are you really concerned about that? It is true that in the east of the country many people went to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, became jihadists. But, you know, there is not pretty much sign of religious extremism. I just had two-and-a-half weeks with the rebels in the Western Mountains, so no sign of religious extremism, no sign of al Qaeda.

How much of a risk do you think that is? It certainly didn't seem that way to me.

BARRETT: No, I don't think that it is particularly al Qaeda as a base of operations, but it is a situation where they are able to make something out of a space, right, so they can bring in recruits and train in ungoverned spaces.

And, of course, the global organized crime syndicates where they raise money. Anytime you have a place that like Libya with about 6 million people but an awful lot of oil money, you're talking about a place where you can go and wash cash and you can get resources.

Anytime you have a weak or failing state, you just end up with a lot of uncertainty in the international system and so things like faked passports and access to international ports, global supply chain, ports of entry.

So it's not so much that al Qaeda would take over like we are concerned with in a place like Yemen. But as more that, you know, just basically the rule of law will not necessarily hold at the same level we'd like to see.

HOLMES: Yes. And especially, of course, is public and private sector management. That will make a diplomat out of you, too. One of the difficult things for the United States in dealing with this region in general is to while protect its interests, look as if you're staying out of it, because this is not a part of the world that likes the U.S. to project its desires and whims on.

BARRETT: That's certainly true and I think that's one place where we actually didn't do pretty good throughout this. I personally was not a big supporter of this particular activity, given everything we have going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think going into Libya was not in our national interest.

But at least we have not tried to go in and stamped made in the USA all over this activity. I think the president has been right to downplay that. I hope the State Department will keep that sort of low-level active engagement. I do think that we have a very significant stake in creating order out of chaos. And we're going to see chaos here in the next few weeks and months and so we do have an important role to play but we'll probably need to do it in the shadows.

HOLMES: All right. Good to talk to you, Mike. Mike Barrett is the former director of strategy for the White House Homeland Security Council. Interesting perspective. Appreciate your time.

BARRETT: Thank you. Good night.

HOLMES: All right. U.S. President Obama being briefed regularly on the situation in Libya while he is on vacation. We're going to go live to Martha's Vineyard. That's next right here on CNN. Stay with us.


BLITZER: President Obama is closely monitoring the situation in Libya from Martha's Vineyard where he and his family are vacationing. Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is joining us now with more.

The president was on a conference call, issued a tough statement. What's the latest?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I can tell you we don't expect to hear anything additional from the president tonight because he has just returned to his compound where he is staying for this 10-day vacation with his family after spending more than three hours with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

But the president did release a statement on Libya this evening in which he said in part, quote, "The momentum against the Gadhafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant."

The president as you pointed out also took part in this conference call with his senior national security team, including his chief of staff, the secretary of defense, also his national security adviser Tom Donilon. The president has asked to continue getting briefings as necessary.

He has been getting briefings here on the island. In fact, started out the day with a briefing from John Brennan. His counter-terrorism adviser. The president is also expected to have another briefing first thing in the morning. So the president splitting his time with some fun here on the island. He did managed to get out on the golf course today. Also made some other social visits, but staying very much on top of the situation in Libya -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a very carefully crafted statement that the White House released. Let me just read a line and then we'll discuss it for a moment, Dan.

"Tonight, the momentum against Gadhafi's regime has reached a tripping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant. The 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." Finally the statement says, "he needs to relinquish power once and for all."

I guess there was never really any serious notion of the president coming before cameras and reading the statement. It was always going to be a statement that would be released on paper. Is that right?

LOTHIAN: That's right. That's right. And the reason for that is because the situation is still very fluid and the White House has been careful today not to get out in front of all the developments. So the president does release that statement because they want to make sure exactly what is happening there on the ground.

He is getting the briefings from John Brennan. Also, we are told by the White House that they have a team on the ground in Libya as well giving the president up-to-date information, at least intelligence that they are getting from their team on the ground.

And so the White House wants to make sure that they figure out exactly what the situation is before the president steps out in front of the camera. Perhaps that can happen sometime tomorrow, but nothing planned at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll see. I guess a lot will depend on what happens on the ground. And we do know that the assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman has been with the rebels in Benghazi coordinating with them, meeting with them. The U.S. recognizes the Transitional National Council as the legitimate government of Libya. No longer Gadhafi's regime.

Dan Lothian, thanks very much.

Michael, as we watch what's going on, it's not just America that's watching very closely. All the NATO allies and many of the Arab countries that broke with Gadhafi including Kadar of the United Arab Emirates among other, they are very watching closely as well.

HOLMES: Well, Kadar is of course said to be closely involved with what the rebels were getting up to over the last few months. And interestingly as you say, the closest neighbor perhaps Tunisia switching its allegiance to the TNC just days ago as well after spending this conflict walking the fine line down the middle.

The world watching in general as Gadhafi's regime teeters now on the edge of total collapse. Well, what impact could his potential fall from power have outside of Libya?

Joining us now, Gordon Chang, author and columnist at

Gordon, good to have you here. We have been talking a lot about what's going on inside Libya's borders, but what would be the regional impact of his fall?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, FORBES.COM: I think the most important thing is going to be Syria because in Syria, you also have a regime that is using massive, deadly force against its citizens.

And because Gadhafi is failing and because force is not working, it really says to the Syrian opposition not only can the Libyans prevail, we can prevail as well. And that lesson is going to be learned in Yemen and perhaps elsewhere throughout the region, because we have had protests that haven't succeeded in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. So this thing could spread. And, of course, it could spread outside of Arab societies as you look at central Asia and perhaps even east Asia.

HOLMES: Well, the one thing that we have to say when it comes to Syria, of course, is that anyone who's opposing the Syrian regime doesn't have NATO on its side.

CHANG: No, it doesn't. But what we have seen though is the international community, and especially the United States and Europe, come together in starting to impose sanctions.

As the sanctions get tougher and tougher, because they have been progressively imposed, we could see more involvement on the part of Brussels and Washington and other capitols as well. So I think that this is important. You know, we're not going to see a no-fly zone over Syria, but we're probably going to see enough coercive measures to be able to make a difference to create that tipping point that President Obama talked about.

HOLMES: You know, as we look at Libya and look at what is happening, and some pictures there on your screen now taken by Sara Sidner's crew as they went into Tripoli today. The extraordinary, astonishing in many ways, developments that have taken place over such a short period of time.

The rebels cheering, they are celebrating. But this -- does it necessarily, and well, does it? I mean, are this right and fair to be skeptical, wary of how this proceeds in the days and weeks ahead.

CHANG: Sure. You know, almost any scenario is possible at this point. You know, Gadhafi is not without resources. There are many Libyans who still want to see him there. So, yes, there are all sorts of things that could occur. But we have seen the general trend of events over these last six months. And clearly, the rebels are going to win. It's just a question of how and whether they can hold themselves together.

The one thing that we haven't seen today is we have seen the rebel opposition fighters in Tripoli. We haven't seen the diplomats and the political leaders go into Tripoli and sort of reassert control. Of course, we couldn't expect that so soon but this needs to happen pretty fast.

HOLMES: That's a very good point, actually. Yes. When will we see the TNC making that trip to Tripoli? Perhaps a little bit early, still fighting going on around the capitol. The battle for Tripoli far from over.

Are you optimistic as you look into your crystal ball when it comes to the outcome in Libya given the political frailties, the tribal, ethnic fractures that have existed long there?

CHANG: Yes, I'm optimistic, and I believe the reason is that the Libyans want more say in their lives. In one way or another they are going to get it. And we have seen what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. You know, it hasn't always been going in the right direction, but we see that elections are scheduled and those elections will eventually occur. If not this fall, this October, when they are supposed to happen, at least soon afterwards.

I think that what we have got is people really want to be able to determine what goes on in their country and that, as President Obama said is irresistible.

HOLMES: Well, that, now you've mentioned President Obama. Here we come with the delicate tap dance that we have been discussing at various times tonight. The U.S.'s involvement. The international community's involvement. In fact, you've got there in Syria. At least in Egypt, there were the pretense of elections. There was a structure in place. Libyans have not live through a history of democracy. There are no political institutions. The fundamental building blocks of democracy do not exist.

How much help is Libya going to need to get those sorts of building blocks under way so that Libyans can hold a credible election?

CHANG: I think they are going to need substantial help, and it's going to take much longer than we'd like. But that's just the way these societies are. They've got to develop the institution. That takes time. But it is going to happen, because the world will come to work with the Libyan people just like we started to see that in Egypt and Tunisia and in other societies as well. It's just something that the world does these days. And so, I'm optimistic that one way or another, the Libyans are going to get this right.

HOLMES: Gordon, always good to talk to you. Gordon Chang, Appreciate your perspective.

CHANG: Thank you.

HOLMES: All right. Stay with us right here on CNN as we continue to cover the developments in Libya.

I will be right back after the break with Wolf Blitzer.




(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get you caught up on the breaking news out of Libya right now. It's early Monday morning in Tripoli. The long-time leader, Moammar Gadhafi, is under siege from rebel forces. This is new video coming in from a CNN crew as they rolled into the heart of Tripoli without encountering any resistance. Rebels caution they don't have complete control of the city, at least, not yet. They were also fearful that pro-Gadhafi forces were heading back to Green Square. Our crew was urged to leave for their own safety.

Here's CNN Sara Sidner.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, what's happening as everyone sort of -- we are here in the middle of Tripoli. What we're seeing rebels all over the square. There are no civilians, mostly men with guns in the square, but we are also seeing people running. There is a lot of gunfire. They say there are snipers. We all had to pull back. The situation is very tense here, but there is a lot of celebrating going on. Some of this is just gun fire in the air, but people are very, very concerned, because they say there were snipers posted on top of some of the buildings.

They're not sure exactly where some of the gun fire is coming from. So, every now and then, you see people just running, trying to get out of the way. But, right now, the rebels have Green Square, and it is a historic moment here in Tripoli, in the capitol. The real stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi has now been taken over by the rebels.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Tripoli.


BLITZER: President Obama issued a strong statement saying the opposition to Gadhafi had reached a tipping point. The rebels say two of Gadhafi's sons have been captured. We've got a picture of one of them. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi. The international criminal court at the Hague has arrest warrants for him and for his father -- Michael?

HOLMES: All right. Wolf, thanks very much. You know, earlier on, a young resident of Tripoli talked to CNN's Hala Gorani about what she was hearing in the city. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. A bit earlier, I live (INAUDIBLE) in the downtown. The men went out and were chanting anti-Gadhafi slogans for the first time in 42 years. Finally, they feel like they're free. They have some sort of freedom of speech. Right now, we hear some gunshots. I'm not sure where they're coming from. A bit earlier, everyone went out. All of the men were outside on the streets. The women were outside on the balconies screaming, chanting anti-Gadhafi slogans. It's so close. We're winning. It's the end.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, really, this is really a day for you where you feel that this is it, that Tripoli will be liberated?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly. I feel like it already is liberated already. They just need to clean up some places. I mean, like the minority of Gadhafi loyalists need to be picked up. Then after that, we will be in the freedom square very soon by -- before Friday inshallah.

GORANI: Right. Before Friday, you are thinking. Let me ask you about the future, though. What's next? Do you have hope that what comes next for your city, Tripoli, for your country, Libya, is full of promise or do you think it will still be difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We live 42 years of hell. Anything that's going to come after this is going to be better than what we lived in the past four decades. Anything that is going to come is going to be a lot better than what we went through, but it will be difficult. I mean, I'm not saying it's going to be amazing. It's not going to be America tomorrow, but we will see drastic changes in this country and the people. (INAUDIBLE)

For the first time in 42 years, we feel like one country. Before, it was always like, oh, it's just me and my people. Now, we love each other. People in Tripoli are chanting for Benghazi. People in Benghazi are chanting (INAUDIBLE). People are chanting in Misrata, and it goes on. It's like we're one united. I guess, it's one president that made us live in hell for the past 42 years.

Finally, we can go out and say what we want. Ask for what we deserve and get it. Right now, we can think without being shot before you couldn't even think to yourself.

GORANI: Right. I know we're not going to say your name, but can you tell me how old you are?


GORANI: So, you are the future of this country.


GORANI: All right. And you are witnessing history for your country. Thank you so much for being here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am. I refuse to leave. This is something that we've all been dreaming of forever. Everyone is so happy. It's something we've been waiting for. We were living in fear for the past four decades. Now, all of a sudden, you can go out and say what you want and say what you feel. I can talk on the phone without being scared they're going to come here and chase me.


Chilling stuff, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's amazing when you think about it. We've covered this. It was only not that long ago when it all started, the Arab spring in Tunisia, and we've seen what's happened throughout North Africa, obviously, in Egypt. Who would have thought Mubarak, Ben-Ali in Tunisia, now Gadhafi in Libya, and potentially, others in the Middle East, they're going to be history pretty soon. It's an amazing development when you think about it, Michael.

HOLMES: It is. In its entirety big picture it is. It's extraordinary. It's not over in a lot of those places, of course, Wolf as we've recorded, too. In Egypt, it's not a done deal that everybody's happy there. I was just in Tunisia last week when I was going in and out of Libya. And, there's still a lot of restive behavior going on in Tunisia as well. And this one, well, this has taken six months to get to this point as well.

So, this is a region that is changing in a way that no one could have imagined it would just those short months ago. And the end of the story is by no means written. This could end up in any number of ways in a regional sense, Wolf.

BLITZER: I wonder what someone like the Syrian leader, Bashar al- Assad. He sees what's happened in Tunisia, in Egypt with Mubarak, and now, in Libya with Gadhafi. I wonder how this plays on his mind right now as he's facing enormous challenges from protesters throughout all of Syria. He's got to be wondering, you know, could this happen to me.

HOLMES: Yes. He's got to be worried about what he's seeing unfold. The difference being, of course, Wolf, as we're discussing before with Gordon Chang (ph), the difference being that there's no NATO paving the way for those protesters in Syria who have been dying by the dozens in a day on some occasions. It's a sanctions-based international protest when it comes to Syria.

And then, it becomes a waiting game. Certainly, you're not seeing al- Assad slowing down in how he's treating his own people. And again, as we have said before, Wolf, every country in that region is different. There are some underlying similarities in what's caused the uprisings, but they're all very, very different. It's like saying Norway and France.

BLITZER: Yes, but it is an amazing situation for those of us -- and I know you have, like me, we've covered the Middle East, North Africa for a long time. When you think within six, eight, nine months what has happened in that part of the world and the potential for even more dramatic change in the coming months, not necessarily years but in the coming months, it's breathtaking.

HOLMES: It is. It is. And there's still a lot of room for concern, isn't it? What we've seen unfolding recently with Israel and the Gaza strip. There is still a lot of tension in that part of the world. Egypt, of course, had its own say when it came to that little exchange between the Palestinians. And so, there's a lot that can go wrong, isn't there?

BLITZER: You know, and if you take a look at some of the countries like Saudi Arabia, the king of Saudi Arabia, as you know, was not very happy when Mubarak went down, and he's not very happy at what he sees in Egypt right now.

HOLMES: Or in Bahrain as well. He wasn't happy about that, and actually, took steps to crush it as well or help in the crushing of it. It's a very complex region, as you know, Wolf. Nothing is simple when it comes in that part of the world. I will say that spending those two and a half weeks or so with the western mountain rebels from the Nafusa Mountain, it was extraordinary how fast they got it together and moved from the mountains to the coast while there was a deadlock from the east, and everyone thought it was a stalemate. Those guys are the ones have swept this to where it is now.

BLITZER: It's amazing what's going on. Michael, thanks very much. Our coverage, though, is not going away. We are staying on top of this story. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. CNN's coverage of the Libya uprising continues right now.