Africa

Libya rebels fail to seize air strike gains

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Media captionLibyan injured by coalition 'still backs mission'

The international intervention has certainly had an impact on the ground in Libya.

Most significantly, it did, as the chief British military spokesman put it, stop an advance by Libyan government forces on the eastern town of Benghazi "in its tracks".

That included a devastating air attack on a government military column in the open.

The United States and others insist they are not acting as the rebels' air force, but their actions are reducing some of the government's military advantages, and have clearly been a psychological boost to the rebels.

However, rebel forces in the east remain badly organised.

This has left something of a military stalemate in the east. Such rebel forces as have been engaged seem unable still to match government forces in defensive positions.

The pro-Gaddafi forces continue to have advantages in weaponry, especially tanks and artillery. So, unless they are moving in the open desert, the rebels seem unable to make advances.

Volunteer army

There were many military defections to the rebel side early on, clearly including some commanders and officers.

But they were mainly individuals rather than formed units, and, of course, large chunks of the regular Libyan armed forces - especially in the east - were in a bad state anyway. This has blunted their potential effectiveness.

As a result, there does not seem to have been much evidence of these forces on the battlefield.

Instead, the rebel forces appear to have been largely volunteers, often with little military expertise, armed only with light weapons, and travelling essentially in pick-up trucks.

There has been little sign of serious military planning. And taking the offensive against a better-armed opponent is always inherently more challenging militarily anyway than digging in for defence.

Such few heavy weapons as have been on display have tended to be improvised or scavenged from government forces.

The government, on the other hand, still seems able to rely on elements of its elite forces.

Whether the rebel side can make serious advances in improving their training, command structure, and access to heavy weapons in the future is unclear.

There was evidence of attempts to do that in the initial stages, and some of the proponents of international intervention in the United States have suggested helping to arm and train the rebels.

But, at the moment, the military situation in the east may be descending into a messy stalemate.

There seems to be little evidence of rebel forces in the east and the west being able to co-ordinate or communicate effectively. And the situation in the west - particularly the effectiveness of rebel forces there, in the third city of Misrata - remains even murkier.

The international coalition now seems to be focusing its attention there more intensively, in what could prove to be the beginning of a new phase in the operation.