Return to Transcripts main page

Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Libyan Regime Crumbling; What's Next for Libya?

Aired August 22, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, 10:00 on the East Coast of the United States.

And we have breaking news tonight: Moammar Gadhafi may be nowhere to be found, but his son and chosen successor, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, has suddenly reappeared. This video from just a short time ago earlier this evening. Saif unexpectedly materialized in front of cameras in Tripoli tonight.

Now, remember, the opposition forces have claimed that they had him in custody. Apparently not or in any case not anymore. Here's some of what he had to say.


SAIF AL-ISLAM GADHAFI, SON OF MOAMMAR GADHAFI (through translator): They have led through the sea and through other means gangs of people who are saboteurs.

And you could the people of Libya are standing and have broken the spine of those rats and the gangsters yesterday and today. Today, we will go into the old hot spots of Tripoli, in Tripoli, and we will reassure the people that things are fine in Libya.

Now we are going to go on a walkabout in Tripoli and in the places where they said there has been -- that they have actually seized from us. Then he said, the hell with the ICC.



COOPER: Well, a short time later, as the dictator's son was about to leave, our own Matthew Chance caught up with him for a brief one-on- one.


GADHAFI: And we broke the backbone of the rebels. And so we...


GADHAFI: So, we're winning. And so now let's go, let's go together to the hottest places in Tripoli, OK? It's very hot. You want to go?


CHANCE: I have to...


GADHAFI: No, we have to move right away.



COOPER: "We have to move."

We will check back with Matthew Chance shortly. He and his crew were basically a captive audience tonight. They are stuck, pinned down, not able to leave the hotel by fighting at a nearby Gadhafi compound and prevented from leaving the hotel by Gadhafi loyalist gunmen inside the hotel who have been patrolling the halls inside. He will fill us on that tonight.

The question is what happens next in Tripoli and what's happening right now? It's frankly hard to tell. Has the opposition been lured into a trap, as Saif Gadhafi claims, or will opposition ultimately secure the capital?

This afternoon, President Obama called on the missing dictator to resurface and surrender.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Although it's clear that Gadhafi's rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for the sake of Libya.


COOPER: That's President Obama this afternoon.

He called the situation fluid. It is certainly that.

Well, we have just gotten a new hint the administration is already preparing for a post-Gadhafi Libya. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that U.S. officials has promised the opposition's National Transitional Council to quickly free up billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets if and when Gadhafi finally falls. More on that and all the other late developments shortly from our people on the ground.

First, a quick look at the opposition's road to Tripoli and, they hope, to victory.


COOPER (voice-over): After weeks of intense fighting in the coastal city, opposition forces on Saturday finally gained control of the city. Their next target, Tripoli, only 30 miles away.

On Sunday, the advance began and even the rebels were surprised at how easily they were able to infiltrate the city.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The road, the coastal road was completely clear. We were able to get here in no time flat. We are just seeing the outskirts of town, but you can see there are checkpoints. You can see people are screaming go straight. You can hear the shooting in the air and we are getting very, very close now to the city center.

COOPER: By dusk the first reports of fighting within Tripoli. Western journalists are held by the government inside the Tripoli hotel.

MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the last few seconds really or last few minutes, we've learned that security that has been so prevalent around this hotel has all of a sudden decided to leave, essentially the government minders who were armed with classic rifles and things like that have departed the hotel now.

And it's pretty empty in the lobby apart from a few security staff, rather a few hotel staff. Apart from that, it's completely empty, which makes it kind of uncertain time. Because obviously what we don't know the exact reason why the miners have left with their weapons. The assumption here is because the rebels are very close by.

COOPER: Late Sunday, Gadhafi made an audio appeal on state television for residents to defend the capital.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, PRESIDENT OF LIBYA (through translator): How can you allow Tripoli to be destroyed, burnt.

COOPER: Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim told reporters that Tripoli was, quote "being turned into a hell fire." By 1: 15 a. m. Monday morning, the rebels marched into Green Square a site famous for pro-Gadhafi rallies.

SIDNER: Right now what's happening is everyone - we are here in the middle of Tripoli. What we're seeing are rebels all over the square. There are really no civilians. Men with guns in the square but we're also seeing people running. There's a lot of gunfire. They say there are snipers. We all had to pull back. The situation is very tense here.

COOPER: There are scenes of celebration inside the city as world leaders, including President Barack Obama, called on Gadhafi to surrender.

But as dawn broke, celebratory gunfire turned hostile as government forces fought back. This BBC reporter came under fire while riding into the center of the city with a convoy of opposition fighters.

Rebels gained another victory by announcing the arrest of Hala Misrati, a news anchor from Libyan State Television who over the weekend brandished a gun during her broadcast declaring she would become a martyr for the regime.

After her arrest, opposition forces say they gained control of the state-run network. A mouthpiece of propaganda for Gadhafi, and turned the broadcast off.

The fierce fighting continues in parts of Tripoli. The opposition says they are certain of victory and have begun making plans to govern the nation. The one task however, that could finally end this war once and for all still eludes them, however, the capture of Moammar Gadhafi. His whereabouts are unknown.


COOPER: Well, again, Gadhafi is hiding somewhere. But his chosen successor, Saif al-Islam, his son, briefly reappeared tonight.

Matthew Chance, as you saw, spoke with him, joins us now from Tripoli via Skype.

Matthew, how did he appear to you? He seemed pretty confident.

CHANCE: Yes, he did.

He seemed very relaxed. He seemed looking quite good, actually, for a man who was supposed to have been in custody for the last 48 hours. Of course he said that was a trick. He made the point that the rebels, even know they're coming Tripoli, he said the Gadhafi forces had broken their backbone and given them a hard time, before the door closed and he drove off.

He drove off in a motorcade into Tripoli, clearly into an area which is very much under control of the forces of his father.

COOPER: And you say -- he said the opposition had fallen into some sort of a trap. What did he mean? Because the opposition has been claiming, besides that they captured him, that they also control 90 percent of Tripoli.

CHANCE: Yes. They are saying that. And I think there are questions tonight about to what extent that's the case. It's very difficult for us here in the hotel to verify what -- how much of Tripoli is controlled by the rebels, how much is controlled by Gadhafi.

But I can tell you this, Saif Gadhafi got into that motorcade and he drove off through the gates and the -- certainly into this area immediately around the hotel. The Gadhafi compound is in this area. There are other key installations as well in this area. He was driving around with pretty limited security, had a couple of other cars filled with bodyguards, didn't have like a huge armored column or anything like that.

And so he seemed to feel pretty confident. He also said, look, get into the car and I will take you around some of the hot areas, supposedly, of Tripoli, the implication being that there are areas that are being talked about as being in rebel hands. He wanted to show us that these areas were safe to drive around. We didn't take the opportunity for various reasons, but, nevertheless, he come across as very confident, indeed, Anderson.

COOPER: It would seem a multi-vehicle white Land Rover convoy would be a pretty good target for NATO planes overhead. The fact that he's driving around in that at night does seem to show a certain amount of confidence.

CHANCE: Yes, it does.

He had already told reporters that had gathered here at the Rixos earlier in the evening that he was going to be giving a press conference. And of course we didn't know he wasn't in captivity at this point. And so we were all a bit taken aback and a bit kind of skeptical that this was going to happen.

Our skepticism was confirmed when we went down at 11:00 at night, 11:30 at night to get ready for this press conference and he just didn't turn up. And so we thought, oh, this is just spin being put out by the rebels. But then when he kind of rocked up at the hotel entrance a few hours later, at about 1:30 in the morning, we were all really surprised.

And I think what was really surprising of everything is that he was still in Tripoli. He was still -- he was free and he said that his father, Moammar Gadhafi, was still in Tripoli as well, as were the rest of his family, sort of trying to dispel those rumors that elements of the family had fled or had been killed or had been taken captive.

COOPER: And at this time, are you hearing gunfire? Are you hearing the sounds of any kind of combat, and if not, when was the last time you did?

CHANCE: It was about, you know, three or four hours ago, shortly before Saif Gadhafi turned up at the hotel. Previous to that, there had been enormous gunfights, ferocious gunfights, grenades exploding, huge explosions of other kind around that compound, which has been the Moammar Gadhafi compound which has been heavily bombed over the past several months, but there's been particular firefights around there for the past 72 hours or so as the rebels entered Tripoli.

But after Saif Gadhafi made his appearance at the Rixos hotel, the whole situation seems to have changed. There's no gunfire outside. It's got very calm. You can see around me I'm talking to you on Skype. The electricity is on in the hotel.

A few hours ago, we were all sitting in the searing heat, because there were no air conditioners. There was no running water. It was pitch black in this hotel. There was no lights outside, no lights inside. And now the generators have gone back on again. It seems that, at least in this area, this pocket of Tripoli around the Rixos Hotel and the Gadhafi compound, the government have really kind of succeeded in defending this pocket and have really reestablished their control, control, by the way, Anderson, they never really lost in this particular area. COOPER: And I know you have been sort of scavenging for food with other correspondents inside the hotel. I hope you remain safe and you and your crew.

Matthew, we will continue to check in with you.

Moammar Gadhafi, as you know, took power in a coup back in '69. For a lot of Libyans, his brutal, often eccentric cult of personality has been all they have known all of their lives. Can you imagine that? That's the way it's been for a 23-year-old Libyan woman that we're calling Noura. We're going to call her that to protect her identity.

She lives in Libya with her family. She says that Libyans have wanted to live normal lives for the past four decades. For months now, she's been trapped in her home, unable to speak. Tonight, she is breaking her silence. She says that under Gadhafi, there's no such thing as a normal life.

And she says she's on the cusp of experiencing freedom for the first time. I spoke to her earlier by phone.


COOPER: How are you feeling? When you hear the gunfire, when you see what is happening now, how do you feel?

"NOURA," LIBYAN WOMAN IN TRIPOLI: I'm frightened because we know that Gadhafi and his army, the kind of people, they do not care about anyone.

And they -- they're kind of -- they are thinking in an evil way. They are not even human beings. You can not -- you can never, never expect what they will do. They're actually -- their reactions, they are unexpected, so we don't know. They may do anything.

Actually now, before one hour, two hours and a half, they were firing rocks. Though I'm 100 percent sure that we win in the end of that, because we are trying to -- because we are defending our freedom. And we didn't choose the situation. We didn't choose to have this war in our country.

Actually, it was forced by Gadhafi and his armies. He is the one who forced us to fight, to take our freedom from him. Now we are fighting to take our simplest needs as people, as human beings. We were treated by him a -- this 42 years as slaves.

COOPER: What does it feel like? Your entire life you have lived under Gadhafi. What does it feel like to be on the brink of change, to be on the brink of something new?

NOURA: You know, now I'm 23 years old. And, as you say, I lived all my house under the control of him.

My feeling now, I'm very, very close from my freedom. So I will just -- in the moment that I will take it, I will live every moment of my life and I will thank Allah for every moment I will live without him, without his control and his sons' control as well.

So I'm waiting. I'm really, really -- I'm waiting for this minute. I'm waiting for the time we will hear that Gadhafi is over, that we killed, they captured him and he's over, not Gadhafi at all. It will be like -- it will be -- I think even if I will die after that moment, it's all right because I just -- I live -- will live for a moment that they will tell me that there is no Gadhafi, that it will be the best thing will ever happen to me in my life.

COOPER: Thank you for talking to us.

NOURA: Yes, you're welcome. Thank you very much. Thank you.

COOPER: Stay safe. Be careful.

NOURA: Thank you.


COOPER: Imagine what that feeling is like.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will try to tweet some tonight, although it is a busy night, this hour ahead.

Up next, how much help has the opposition gotten from NATO? Of course, we all know about the air support, but what about special forces, so-called boots on the ground, covert assistance? We will talk to a former top intelligence officer and a former army intelligence commander about the possibilities.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy, feeling happy, hopefully, very, very happy.

Problem is finished. Gadhafi finished. Now Libya freedom.



COOPER: Saif Gadhafi tonight making a surprise appearance outside the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli. He said his father is in Tripoli with his daughters and doing well. We can't verify that, of course. He said opposition forces have been lured into the capital to be crushed. He offered little to back that up. The opposition claims to control about 90 percent of the city, but they also had claimed to be -- have Saif in custody.

We have no independent means of confirming either way. What we do know is that opposition forces have moved into Tripoli so quickly in part with NATO air support. They have become better fighters with the kind of covert assistance that you don't see on the evening news.

I spoke about it and Saif's appearance tonight with former CIA Officer Robert Baer, author of "The Company We Keep," also retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.


COOPER: So, General Marks, with the fight for Tripoli on going, Gadhafi's whereabouts unknown, how do you see this playing out, especially with the appearance now of Saif Gadhafi?

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think the most important thing is that you never believe the first report you hear and obviously that's played out with the appearance of Saif Gadhafi in town.

But really the issue now becomes what type of command and control exists among this rebel force that can really put in place some degrees of control around Gadhafi's military that still exists. What are those units that have to be destroyed? And then how can they get that equipment from those forces, Anderson, and put them into locations so you can lock them down and start doing an inventory so they don't appear elsewhere in battle and, more importantly, they don't appear on the black market being sold someplace.

So it's very, very critical these next couple of days and that what we've seen is not at all certain.

COOPER: Bob, it seems that the opposition fighters, I mean in the early days of this we all saw how completely disorganized they were, shooting in the air, running forward, then retreating, jumping into vehicles. It was really complete chaos on the battlefield. They clearly began to get some direction and organization.

How much of that, do you think, came from foreign Special Forces, from intelligence operatives, from NATO and other countries?

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: A lot of it has. I mean NATO has played a crucial role in this. And in order to hit these targets as General Marks knows you need close air support, you need communications with airplanes, you need surveillance equipment. A lot of, in fact a lot of them are contractors flown into Benghazi this summer providing support, this communications equipment. Some of it was lethal support. And then you have British commandos as well as French and Qatari and they have been in the west and they played a key role. And that's why we've seen a lot fewer hits on rebel forces.

COOPER: It's also why there's been less coverage of opposition troop movements because I think they have finally got sort of battlefield control over where reporters go.

General Marks, though, if the battle is now in Tripoli, what role does NATO play in that? Obviously there is air support and they can bomb, but if it becomes a street-to-street fight, that becomes more difficult for NATO to be involved with unless they use some sort of covert forces on the ground, no?

MARKS: Absolutely, Anderson. All along we've been talking about the inevitability of some foreign boots on the ground. That will take place, whether the fighting assumes what we would call street-to- street, block-to-block type of engagements that are characterizations of urban warfare or, more importantly, during these periods of transition, and let's just state it as we see it, there will be a transition and it's coming up shortly. You've got to be able to lock down Gadhafi's military forces so they don't grow legs and go elsewhere and that takes some degree of a force on the ground.

COOPER: There's also concern, Bob, that, you know, they decide to do some sort of insurgency, that Gadhafi forces go out to the desert or some other area where they still think they can operate and just do kind of hit and run operations.

How likely do you think something like that is, or does he not have the kind of loyalty that that would require?

BAER: No, he can do this. In the early part of the conflict he was talking about in this inner circle about going to Sabha. If you look at the map, it's way down in the desert. It's remote, it would be hard to hit. It's maybe a fantasy on his part, but remembers, this is a tribal conflict and there are still tribal loyalties. It's not going to be like overthrowing Saddam. Once he was out there wasn't all that much loyalty. But with Gadhafi, it's much more tribal bonding and we're going to see resistance on their part.

As General Marks said, we need to get in there and some way prevent a civil war because that's always likelihood in a place like Libya.

COOPER: It is, General Marks, a key moment now. I mean I have been in countries that have fallen and I remember being the fall in the boot and once a dictator that's been in power for a long period of time many people owe their allegiance to, once he is seen to be weak, you never know what his forces are going to do.

MARKS: You don't. It's the euphoria of the moment. What you have is Gadhafi's forces now, everybody is trying to cut their own deal, everybody is now in a survival type of mode. His calls for some last- ditch effort to continue the fight really are going to cause greater blood shed.

And then the rebels, in which haven't demonstrated a lot of command and control, a lot of maturity and a lot of discipline have now been able to achieve this or about to achieve this great victory, the concern for score settling is very large.


COOPER: That was Spider Marks and Robert Baer earlier tonight.

Now, coming up, President Obama might be on vacation, but he's been closely involved with events playing out. We will analyze the president's strategy on Libya next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone has been waiting for this day for Moammar Gadhafi to get out. Everyone in Benghazi is waiting for that very minute. They can capture the sons. They can capture confidants of Gadhafi, but until they have Gadhafi captured, dead or alive, people are still, even in Benghazi, somewhere apprehensive, because the man has been, quite frankly, a boogeyman for everyone.

So even if he gets out of Libya, the chance that he might return, the chance that his followers might again pick up arms is still very real.


COOPER: Well, very real indeed, and a very fluid situation, as President Obama today characterized the events unfolding inside Libya.

The president is monitoring developments from Martha's Vineyard, we're told, where he's on vacation this week with his family. He spoke by phone this afternoon with members of the National Security Council and with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

He then issued a statement. Here's part of he said.


OBAMA: Over the last several days, the situation in Libya has reached a tipping point, as the opposition increased its coordination from east to west, took town after town, and the people of -- of Tripoli rose up to claim their freedom.

For over four decades, the Libyan people had lived under the rule of a tyrant who denied them their most basic human rights. Now the celebrations that we've seen in the streets of Libya shows that the pursuit of human dignity is far stronger than any dictator.

I want to emphasize that this is not over yet. As the regime collapses, there's still fierce fighting in some areas, and we have reports of regime elements threatening to continue fighter.


COOPER: Well, the president has also said it is time for Gadhafi to relinquish power in order to reduce further bloodshed.

We're joined now by Fran Townsend, CNN national security contributor and a member of the CIA External Advisory Committee. In May of 2010, Fran visited high-ranking officials at the invitation of the Libyan government. We're also joined by William Cohen, former defense secretary and now CEO of the Cohen Group, an international consulting group that represents defense contractors and others, and Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at the Hoover institution.

Secretary Cohen, the U.S. strategy in this campaign, leading from behind, taking a supporting role, in the end, did it work?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, the question is, is it working? And while success may be delayed, I don't think it's going to be defeated. I think that the -- over the next several days and weeks, I think we will see more intensification of the pressure being brought by the rebels. So, I don't think that Gadhafi is going to survive this. In fact, if he were to survive, it would be a major blow to the prestige of NATO, to the United States and to others. So, I don't see that as the -- a viable outcome, that Gadhafi stays or that he remains, through his son or others, in power.

COOPER: Fouad, I mean, not having a front role for the United States was obviously a very -- a big difference for U.S. foreign policy. The president received a lot of criticism early on.

Looking at it now, how do you see it?

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, look, I think President Obama is very sincere in his belief that there has been a decline in American power. That's one.

He's also very sincere in his belief that the Arab Spring can't be an American production. It can't be an American show. So basically, from the beginning, from the time Tunisia erupted and Egypt erupted, onto this moment in our history, I think the president has been keen to stay away from claiming paternity of this.

COOPER: Fran, in terms of the Obama administration and the way they have gone about it, what do you make of the policy so far?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, I think the best thing that happened was the endorsement -- the invitation of the Arab League for -- for foreign forces, the United States, to come in and respond to the situation in Libya. And I do think it was right to bring in NATO.

Now, my -- my argument here, my disagreement with them is only on the way we used NATO's power. It's only in the last four to six weeks where NATO really stepped up their bombing campaign that it became most effective at weakening the Gadhafi regime. I would have liked to have seen that sooner, but in the end, if Gadhafi falls, I think we'll regard this as a success that we can learn from to be more effective the next time.

COOPER: Secretary Cohen, do you think moving forward, I mean, the president today called this an unprecedented international coalition. The make of it -- I mean, we've seen coalitions before but most of them U.S.-led. Do you think this is a new precedent for interventions going forward?

COHEN: I think it's time for other countries to pick up a fair share of the burden of these kinds of interventions on behalf of preserving humanitarian interests, protecting people.

I think the United States is not a declining power. Our power has been stretched by virtue of what we've engaged for the past ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be sure. There's no other power on the planet that can match the United States for the power today. But this is an important geopolitical statement, as well. Other countries have to step up and carry some of the burden. It can't be the United States leading every effort and you have other countries, whether it's the British or the French or the Italians or others who have strong ties, historically, to Libya, they have to play a bigger role. The United States can bring its power to bear in the form of intelligence, surveillance, direct munitions or precision guiding munitions. We can do all of that, but it's time for others to step up and bear some of the load that we've been carrying for many, many years now.

COOPER: Fouad, if you are Bashar al-Assad sitting in Syria tonight watching this, what do you think has gone through his mind?

AJAMI: Well, obviously, he thinks -- he must think he's next in line. But he also understands that the intervention that happened has actually saved him. Because in fact, we were -- we became so gun-shy in Libya that there is no possibility of any military intervention against Bashar al-Assad.

But Bashar al-Assad, on some level, must always remain convinced that Syria is a bigger nut to crack, that it's a bigger challenge for the west, that he will be -- he will find -- he will find a way to beat this rebellion. And I think he's wrong.

COOPER: He was very cocky after Egypt. He gave that interview -- I think it was to the "Wall Street Journal" if I'm not mistaken, sort of saying -- kind of pooh-poohing what was going on elsewhere, saying this -- nothing has changed in Syria.

AJAMI: Right. It doesn't apply to Syria, he said, because why? Because Syria is a confrontation state against Israel. He was convinced of this. And indeed, when the revolution knocked on his door, he was shocked that the reverberations of Tunisia and Egypt had reached in.

COOPER: Fran, do you think change in Syria is possible now, in the wake of what we're seeing in Libya?

TOWNSEND: I do, Anderson. And it's interesting you asked Dr. Ajami about what message that Bashar al-Assad takes from Libya. I actually think the more interesting take is that -- of the Syrian people.

In some ways, the notion that the Libyan opposition, over the course of months, regrouped and was able to get into Tripoli with the support of the international community, is something of an inspiration to those in Syria who have come out week after week, under relentless, degrading gunfire and, you know, abuse by their own government. And the message there is over time, the -- with international community support, they, too, can be successful.

And so what you hope is that the Syrian opposition take some inspiration, some hope from what they're seeing right now in Libya.

AJAMI: There's a wonderful placard that was seen in Syria, by the way. Remember, the Syrian dictator called his people germs, because we know he's a doctor. And the Libyan dictator called his people rats. So there was a placard that says, "The germs of Syria salute the rats of Libya." The bond between these two populations, if you will, seeking freedom from these two tyrannies.

COOPER: But Secretary Cohen, unless NATO had -- I mean, because of NATO intervention, this is why they have been able to move so quickly. I mean, because of not just NATO bombing but also, must have been training or, at least, some international force training, because early on we saw the lack of organization in these resistance fighters in Libya.

COHEN: They've become better, certainly, as soldiers in a very short period of time. But it's clear in just watching them in the filming that you -- you're putting on, that they're still -- they lack the kind of discipline and command and control that's so essential for a fighting force.

I think they have raw courage and determination to rid themselves of Gadhafi, and that counts a lot in any battle. But I think as time goes on they'll be getting more support, more covert action, more covert intelligence and overt intelligence. I think that the United States and the NATO countries will intensify the military activities to the extent that we can without engaging what they call "collateral damage." And that means when you're talking about targeting an urban area you have to be very, very concerned about how many innocent people you're going to kill in that effort.

COOPER: Yes. Well, Fouad, I think tonight not just about those -- the Libyans who have lost their lives in this struggle and those reporters, like Tim Hetherington, a colleague of mine, and others, but of those people who have been locked in their homes now for months and months and hiding in their houses in Tripoli, not able to speak, afraid to go outside, finally now feeling like they're on the cusp of something.

AJAMI: Well, exactly. They feel the breeze of freedom is coming their way, and they're willing to take the risk of freedom, because they know the past. They know Gadhafi. They know Saif al-Islam. They know his sons. And they know Khamis, the other son, and so on. I think they just want to see some new dawn for themselves.

COOPER: Fouad, thank you very much. Fran Townsend, as well. Secretary Cohen, thank you, as well.

We're going to hear more a little bit later on the program. Still ahead, more on Saif Gadhafi, his reappearance tonight, and his message for the opposition. We'll dig deeper into the power vacuum that Moammar Gadhafi's departure may leave. We'll talk with Fouad and others about that.

Isha Sesay is also following some other stories for us tonight -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, back here in the U.S. a surprise turn in the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss- Kahn. The former IMF chief may be off the hook for allegedly assaulting a hotel housekeeper a few months ago. Details on that and much more when "360" continues.


COOPER: Well, late developments are joining -- for us tonight. Arwa Damon is traveling with the opposition fighters. They've just arrived at Tripoli's International Airport. She joins us now on the phone.

What's the situation where you are now, at the airport, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the opposition fighters here arrived around 11:30 noon, after what they describe as being a fairly tough battle as they were trying to make their way up. Around 30 miles out they encountered their first resistance from Gadhafi's forces and they say that firefight lasted about two hours.

They then pushed up to another location, where another battle took place around half an hour. This second location also was very close to a military compound. They said they were finally able to secure the compound and get their hands on the weapons that were there that were inside that they describe as being fairly extensive, before making their way up to the airport where they say they got into a significant fight with the battle was not as tough as the road had been on the way up. There were casualties on both sides, they said, and there have been ongoing clashes all day in the periphery and the perimeter of the airport. A few miles just outside, they've been consistently clashing with Gadhafi forces.

One location that's not too far away we're being told is one of the main military compounds and they're expecting quite a significant fight. What they're trying to do now is comb through the area surrounding the airport to try to fully secure them before they continue on their advance. Because, Anderson, the road out of the airport is a straight shot , and the compound is knowing that the opposition wants to take over.

The mood among the fighters has been fairly upbeat, although they are quite tired but they are really, really determined and you see it etched on their faces. They realize that they have come this far. This is their main and final push. And they're absolutely determined to take this until the end. We've been hearing sporadic gunfire and explosions in the distance so some clash that appear to be happening in our vicinity.

COOPER: Arwa, I think it's about 4:40 in the morning right now in Tripoli. Correct me if I'm wrong. How far is the airport from downtown Tripoli?

DAMON: From what we've been able to gather it seems like the airport is around maybe 13 to 15 miles from Gadhafi's main compound.

COOPER: OK. And are the -- are the opposition fighters in -- are the opposition fighters in full control of the airport? And do they control the runways?

DAMON: Yes. We haven't been able to get all the way up to the runway because of the late hour but what they've been telling us is that yes, they do control the runways. There are aircrafts on there from various countries. They control all the buildings in the airport compound. And they say they have full control over all of the entrances, and they're telling us security stationed throughout there. Hundreds of fighters in this area and they came up from the south and the majority of them, and then when they reached here they've also been meeting up with a number of fighters that are from Tripoli. People that effectively, were opposition sleeper cells, if that's what you want to call them, that were just waiting for the signal before they also rose up and took weapons, began fighting themselves.

And so groups from all of these different groups from different parts have been advancing, merging, capitalizing on each other's experience, and really trying to push forward as hard and as fast as they can.

COOPER: And Arwa, I know you've been traveling but I'm not sure if you heard. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, who the opposition fighters had said they had apprehended and were holding -- and they were holding, he appeared several hours ago moving around freely in Tripoli itself. Have you heard that? Has any -- have any of the fighters you're with heard that?

DAMON: They haven't said anything to that effect directly. But what I can say is that we've heard various accounts as to how much control they actually have over Tripoli. It seems as if after the initial push into Tripoli when they went all the way to Green Square, where they felt they had control over large parts of the city, they were then pushed back.

One of the groups that we're with right now was telling us that they did end up pinned down in a lot of trouble in some parts of the city itself as they were able to escape.

I think the other issue here is that this is such a fluid battlefield. There's so much information that is coming out, and there is so much misinformation that is coming out, which is why the fighters say that, in terms of ending the units on the ground, they do have to proceed with caution because communication, also, obviously, is a big challenge for them here. They do have radios to try to communicate back and forth, but that does not extend over a very long distance. And so it's quite challenging for them themselves to actually see what's happening beyond the pinhole that they're fighting in.

COOPER: Yes. A lot of activity. Arwa Damon, please stay safe, you and your crew.

Coming up, Moammar Gadhafi has ruled for so long, there will be a power vacuum when he's gone. The question is who's likely to fill it and how quickly can they fill it? We'll talk about that coming up with Fouad Ajami and others in just a moment.


COOPER: A check on some of the other stories we're following outside Libya. Isha is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the U.N. Human Rights Council met in Geneva today and called on Syria's government to stop cracking down on peaceful protesters and to immediately release anyone detained for protesting. The U.N. sent a humanitarian mission to Syria over the weekend, where the U.N. says more than 2,200 people have been killed since the start of mass protests in mid-March. On Sunday, Syria's president rejected calls for his ouster and again promised steps toward political reform.

A New York district attorney recommended today that charges be dropped against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, citing questions about the accuser's credibility. Kahn was accused more than three months ago of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York. The housekeeper's lawyer is asking the judge in the case to halt proceedings and appoint a special prosecutor.

Stocks ended slightly higher today. The Dow was up 37 points. Still, investors are worried about the outlook for the U.S. economy, ahead of the key speech from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday.

And lightning sparked a fire today in the British Virgin Islands that destroyed the home of Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson. He said about 20 people were in his home at the time, including actress, Kate Winslet. No one was injured.

And Anderson, Richard Branson in an e-mail statement, actually thanking Winslet for helping carry out his 90-year-old mother.

COOPER: Goodness. Wow. That's so sad. So sad the house was destroyed. Glad everyone got out safe. Isha, thanks very much.

If and when Gadhafi goes, the question is what comes next? What might a new Libya look like? Some answers when we come back.


COOPER: For so many in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi has been the only ruler they've ever known. Gadhafi was a young man back in 1969 when he took power. He was just 27 years old when he ousted Libya's King Idris. When he's gone, there's no doubt there's going to be a power vacuum of some sort, and it's expected to be filled by the National Transitional Council, which was formed earlier this year as rebellion against Gadhafi took root. The NTC is currently based in the city of Benghazi. It's the opposition stronghold back in the east of Libya, and it's expected to move to Tripoli as soon as opposition forces take over the capital.

The U.S., Britain, Spain, Canada, Germany and others have already recognized the NTC as the new legitimate government in Libya, but a lot of observers of Libya say the council has its work cut out for it.

I spoke about that with Robert Baer, former CIA officer; Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution; and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the State Department, who's now a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Fouad, this obviously isn't Iraq, but you hear, you know, there's concerns about the possibility of Gadhafi loyalists dissolving away and then suddenly emerging as an insurgency. Is that a possibility?

AJAMI: I'm glad you mentioned Iraq. Because in Iraq, there was the war after the war. And we will remember that the regime of Saddam Hussein fell in April, and Saddam himself was captured in December. There was seven to eight months interlude between the fall of the regime and the capture of the man who headed the regime. So we're heading into this great uncertainty. But there is no doubt the Gadhafi regime has fallen, practically, at this point. Now...

COOPER: No matter what Saif Gadhafi simply (ph) says?

AJAMI: Yes. I have a grievance against Saif because they announced that he was captured and now he has made this appearance.

I think the regime has fallen. Now, what happens in Libya next is, of course, anyone's guess, but the prospects for the Libyan people are promising. There can be no possibility that the regime would rise in Libya that would equal the tyranny and the brutality of this regime.

COOPER: Bob Baer, we don't have the religious divisions in Libya that there were in Iraq, but there are tribal divisions. And there's bound to be some disagreement over how to handle oil revenues. How serious do you think disputes or the potential for fault lines are?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: I think there's a potential for a lot, and you also have the Berbers who are not really Arabs, and they played a key role in taking Tripoli, apparently, from what we've heard in the countries divided east and west. And you do have the tribal groups, and they still have the Gadhafi tribe, still a lot of loyalty.

And remember, this country has had no serious -- any sort of political institutions to build a democracy on. I think it's going to need a lot of help. I think we need to get in there at some level international level, to provide that help to avoid the possibility of the civil war because it's always going to be a vacuum when a regime like this falls that is so brutal. You have to rebuild the police, the military and right from the ground of parliament.

COOPER: Anne-Marie Slaughter, what is so stunning about the idiocy of Gadhafi is that, for all the money that he has made, that the oil revenues have brought that country, that he did not -- and for all his talk about building apartment blocks and caring for people, their hospitals are miserable. Their school system is pathetic.

He had such an opportunity to -- to enrich his own people. There's not that many people in Libya. And yet, he chose not to do that. And now this is a country where the institutions need to be rebuilt.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY (via phone): Anderson, you're right. It's a country of six million people with tremendous oil wealth that has been not used for his people. And it is going to take quite a lot of time to rebuild the institutions or build the institutions for the first time.

But I do think, before we immediately look at all the trouble ahead -- and we're already seeing, of course, that the fighting isn't over -- it's still worth recognizing that six months ago, Gadhafi was threatening Benghazi with tanks and planes. He could have crushed the opposition completely. He was doing it already. And the world intervened. There was a real debate, and the world intervened. And six months later, the rebels are in Tripoli. And that is a tremendous accomplishment.

So before we -- we plunge into what's coming, I think it's worth remembering that.

COOPER: Fouad, has NATO been a success here? I mean, you know, you were critical of the Obama administration for being slow to get into this, for the way they got into it. Looking back now, what do you make of it?

AJAMI: Well, I think there's a Libyan patriot, a Libyan who corresponds with me, and she sent me this e-mail and said, "Libya is nearly free. It's nearly free. We're on the edge of freedom."

And NATO was late. I think the American policy was late. I think the recognition of the transition council should have come months earlier. But nevertheless, you don't quibble now at this point with this spectacle of freedom in Libya, because I'm convinced that this regime is finished. This regime is over.

COOPER: Anne-Marie, there's concern, obviously, as there always is, about Islamic extremists, about al Qaeda. There were reports that, you know, I think it was the second highest number of people who went to Iraq to fight against U.S. forces came from Libya. Is that a real concern moving forward for Libya?

SLAUGHTER: It is certainly something we have to watch and there is some evidence that arms that have been sent into Libya have fallen into al Qaeda's hands. And the National Transitional Council has a charter of transition in which it's clear that they are balancing support from Islamist groups, not al Qaeda, but Islamist groups, that they are strong in Libya.

But I don't think that's going to be the first order of the day, because what has to happen is establishing basic order and political representation to avoid the kind of chaos that could then really support a haven for terrorists.

COOPER: Fouad Ajami, Bob Baer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, thank you all very much.

That does it for "360." Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues next with CNN International and Isha Sesay. I'll see you tomorrow.