Key town, key tribe
The town of Bani Walid and the dominant local tribe, the Warfallah, now find themselves at the heart of the endgame in the struggle for Libya. The Warfallah are the country’s largest tribe and have a long history of ambiguous relations with Gaddafi.
They were sometimes described as a pillar of the regime, which claimed last month that thousands of Warfallah tribesmen were going to defend Tripoli. But the rescue did not come, a reflection perhaps of Warfallah ambivalence and a painful history.
While in power, Gaddafi responded brutally to any suggestion of disloyalty in Warfallah ranks. Bani Walid rose up in the mid-1990s after 55 officers from the area were arrested and accused of spying for the US. Some officers were executed, leaving a lasting legacy of bitterness towards Gaddafi.
That history suggests that Bani Walid may not prove an enduring haven for the ousted leader and his sons. The military situation in and around the town was described on Tuesday as mixed and fluid.