Earlier today, we noted how the outcome of the battle between rebels and Muammar Qaddafi's forces in Ajdabiya could determine the trajectory of the month-long Libyan uprising, given that the eastern town provides access to highways that would allow the regime's forces to beseige rebel headquarters in nearby Benghazi. Since then, opposition forces have fled Ajdabiya, beaten back to Benghazi by tanks and rockets.

Now Libya's army has informed Benghazi's residents that it will imminently launch a "humanitarian mission" to retake the city and rescue them from "terrorists," according to Reuters. One rebel suggested that the opposition could no longer fend off Qaddafi's forces without the international community's help."This is the death line, right here," he told The Guardian. But The New York Times reports that the opposition didn't appear to be preparing "for a vigorous defense" in Benghazi, with one rebel leader declaring that his forces were still in control of Ajdabiya. A Malian soldier fighting for the Libyan government has suggested to the Associated Press that the government will surround Benghazi without attacking it, leaving one "exit open for the rebels" to escape into the desert. 

Only ten days ago, the AP notes, the rebels controlled the entire eastern half of Libya and several key cities in the west, and appeared poised to advance on Qaddafi's base of operations in Tripoli. But Qaddafi's regime has "reversed the tide by relying on a military that--while apparently not much larger than rebel forces--is far better armed and organized, able to unleash fearsome bombardments from sea, air and land."

That superior military might is why the opposition has pleaded with the international community in recent days to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. The U.N. Security Council is currently considering a draft resolution to impose a no-fly zone and step up sanctions against the Qaddafi regime, one that's supported by the U.K., France, and Lebanon (representing the Arab League). But the U.S. has been reluctant to embrace a no-fly zone and Security Council members like Russia and Germany have expressed opposition to the military measure, and a vote may not take place for a week.

"As the diplomatic debate drags on," Reuters notes, "there is now a very real possibility that by the time world powers agree on a response to the conflict, Qaddafi's forces may already have won."