In exclusive interviews with The Sunday Times, two generals and a colonel who have sought refuge in Italy said Colonel Gaddafi's military capacity had shrunk to just a fifth of its strength, and predicted he would fall from power within weeks. “Thousands of members of the armed forces have defected or deserted, especially over the past two weeks. There are defections every day. Everyone who gets an opportunity grabs it,” said General Melud Massoud Halassa.
Eight defectors - five generals, two colonels and a more junior officer - were extracted from Libya via Tunisia and brought to Rome with the help of the Italian foreign intelligence service. They were confident that the regime was crumbling. “Gaddafi will fall in a few weeks' time, morale is so bad both in the army and in the population,” said General Halassa, who defected a week ago with his wife and five children. He said rebel and NATO attacks as well as shortages of food and fuel had demoralised Colonel Gaddafi's forces.
On Friday night Britain deployed its Apache helicopters for the first time, attacking and destroying two military installations, a radar site and an armed checkpoint. General Halassa said: “Sometimes the rebels or protesters who are killed are relatives or friends of men in the army; the killers and the killed are related, and that hurts morale even more.” General Oun Ali Oun, formerly of the military intelligence service, said a group of 120 officers and soldiers who had defected were now in Tunis. Many others had switched sides and joined the rebels, or were in hiding.
Both generals estimated that the armed forces were now at 20 per cent of their initial strength at the beginning of the fighting because of the losses and defections they had suffered. The senior Italian intelligence official who helped oversee their defection also forecast that Gaddafi would be ousted within weeks. “The defections are a concrete sign that the Gaddafi system is collapsing, and there will be more big defections. The more Gaddafi loses his grip, the more these people flee,” he said.
All three officers who spoke to The Sunday Times are understood to be heading back to Libya this weekend to join the rebels. “My hope is that we can return to Libya and live in freedom there, and not under the rule of a tyrant,” said General Ali Oun.
When Gaddafi's forces break at Brega, that's when it's really going to be over. The handwriting will really be on the wall and the world will know it. With some Gaddafi forces in retreat in the Western Mountain area, I think it is fair to say that Gaddafi is being worn down.