Historically Doomed – The Battle of Tripoli 2011
Benghazi--Rebels said they suffered heavy losses in eastern Libya after being "tricked" by Muammer Qadhafi's forces, as the US pressed Africa to take tougher action against the strongman's regime.On the eastern frontline between the rebel-held transport hub Ajdabiya and the oil town of Brega, which is in the hands of Qadhafi's soldiers, a firefight on Monday left 21 rebel combatants dead, their commander told AFP.
"Our men were tricked. Qadhafi's soldiers pretended to surrender, coming with a white flag, and then they fired on us," Mussa al-Mograbi said.
That report sounds similar to the after action report on the battle between Sterett's schooner USS Enterprise and the pirate ship Tripoli, whose captain twice feigned surrender only to resume fighting again when the American's guard was down.
The same tactic used by the pirate captain who killed Stephen Decatur's brother in the attack on Tripoli harbor in August, 1803, an act of treachery that Decatur avenged himself before the battle was over.
In reviewing the history of those battles at Tripoli, two things stand out that should be lessons learned, including the Libyan penchant for feigning surrender, only to resume fighting again when the enemy’s guard is down. Another lesson is to prevent the co-opting of the purpose of the battles by accepting a peaceful resolution without accomplishing the mission or desired regime change.
Both of these lessons were learned by the American combatants in the battles against the Barbary Pirates in the early 1800s.
The first lesson, the pirate’s penchant to feign defeat and surrender, was learned during the first engagement between the Americans and pirates when Lt. Sterret, captain of the schooner USS Enterprise, came upon the pirate ship Tripoli in the act of commandeering an American merchant ship. Sterret and the Enterprise effectively attacked the Tripoli, but after the captain of the enemy ship appeared to surrender, striking their colors, they resumed fighting again until they were thoroughly and decisively defeated.
During one of the two US Naval attacks on Tripoli harbor, Lt. Stephen Decatur led one task force while Lt. Richard Somers led another. In the course of the battle, Decatur’s younger brother was killed by a pirate captain who had previously surendered, an act of treachery that led Stephen Decatur to abandon a captured enemy ship in order to avenge the death of his brother, which he did.
While the navy bottled up the pirates and kept them busy in Tripoli habor, US counsel to Egypt William Eaton, USMC Sgt. Presley O’Bannon, a few hundred Greek Christians and a ragtag army of Arab mercenaries traveled 500 miles across the Libyan desert to attack and capture the eastern port city of Darma. There they gathered together and prepared to march on Tripoli and free the American prisoners being held there.
When news of the fall of Darma reached Tripoli however, the pirate BeyYusuf Karamanli decided to negotiate, and US counsel Tobias Lear brokered a truce that freed the 300 captured prisoners from the USS Philadelphia, paying a ransom of $60,000, but no tribute, and allowing the Bey to remain in power.
This co-opting of the war that we were winning decisively did not go over well with those who were fighting, or with those in Washington who wanted to win the war on the ground and sea and not accept any peace terms that failed to accomplish the mission, which they did.
Today, as the Battle of Tripoli 2011 rages on, we should remember the lessons that were learned in the early Battles of Tripoli, and not accept a feigned surrender, or accept any peace terms that permit Ghadaffi to stay in power.