Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sirte, Libya: A Place of Danger

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The Libyan Republic's forces are currently in control of most of Libya with the exception of the city of Sirte.  This city is the hometown and last stronghold of Muammar Qaddafi and his Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Republic.  Qaddafi's forces have launched several Squd missiles from Sitre and have vowed to fiercely fight any rebels who attempt to take the city.  This potential last battleground of the Libyan Civil War has been a place of danger many times before.  The danger; however, tends not to be in the city but in the Gulf of Sirte also known as the Gulf of Sidra also known as Syrtis.

A Danger to Ancient Sailors

The Gulf of Sitre was such a dangerous place that it is mentioned in the Bible as an area sailors fear.  Describing Saint Paul's captivity journey from Crete to Rome (before he washes up on Malta) the Bible describes his captors-sailors' fears of the gulf:

"They hoisted it [a dinghy] aboard, then used cables to undergird the ship. Because of their fear that they would run aground on the shoal of Syrtis, they lowered the drift anchor and were carried along in this way." -Acts 27:17 New American Bible

According to the Associates for Biblical Research, the gulf has moving shallows of sand drifts in which ships can run aground upon.  These drifts, miles away from shore, would become the graves of sailors who suffered painful starvation/dehydration deaths.

A Place of Pointless Cost

During World War II the gulf witnessed two naval battles.  Both battles were between the United Kingdom and Italy.  The first battle was relatively uneventful with the Italians unable to stop the resupply of Malta and the British unable to cut Axis-occupied Libya from Italy.  The second battle was bloodier and technically a British victory as the Italians were unable to stop a Malta relief convoy.  However, the battle delayed the convoy long enough for the Italian air force to sink the supply ships the next day.

America versus Qaddafi

In 1973, Muammar Qaddafi declared that the gulf was solely Libyan waters and drew a "Line of Death" encompassing much of the gulf.  The United States challenged this claim by conducting operations in the Gulf of Sitre.  Libyan fighters fired on American military planes both in 1973 and 1980 but there was no military consequences.

In 1981 two Libyan fighter-bombers engaged two American F-14s only to be shot down in an event which became known as the Gulf of Sidra incident.  In 1986 the second incident occurred with Libyans firing missiles at American Navy ships and a dogfight.  No causalities occurred until several Libyan navy ships attempted to engage the American fleet.  Two Libyan ships were then sunk and two more damaged.  A month later the United States launched bombing attacks from the gulf against Libya in response to Libyan terrorism against American military and German civilians at a dance hall in West Berlin.

A Bloody Seesaw

The coastline along the Gulf of Sirte was and continues to be the seen of where most of the Libyan Civil War of 2011 is being fought.  The initial rebel assault, the Qaddafi's counter-attack from Sirte city to Benghazi, and then the slow battle grind at the oil ports have been conducted along the coastline of this place of danger.  It is sort of fitting that this place halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi is where the war could end.

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