Ragtag Libya Rebels Stand Firm

Mike Elkin

HAVANA TIMES, March 7 (IPS) — The soldiers fighting against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in central Libya lack training, equipment and numbers, yet somehow continue to withstand attacks and push forward toward Tripoli.

On Monday, Gaddafi’s men and rebels clashed again around the oil refinery town of Ras Lanuf. Rebels had AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, while Gaddafi used MIG fighter jets and missiles. The town was evacuated prior to air strikes Sunday, but the rebels are not surrendering.

The rebel council has asked the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to help even the playing field. Despite claims to the press that the rebel air force has planes and pilots, none have taken to the skies yet.

Libyan rebels oppose foreign troops, but they would not refuse international help in dismantling Gaddafi’s air capabilities. The United Kingdom and France are now drafting a United Nations resolution to establish a no-fly zone.

How the disorganized rebels are able to at least hold their ground is a military miracle. They are stretching their supply lines and waiting for more weapons and artillery from Benghazi.

On Friday night, a series of still unexplained explosions leveled Benghazi’s main arms depot, destroying thousands of anti-aircraft guns, explosives and other arms. Some military officials blamed an air strike while others suggested sabotage.

Furthermore, most of the volunteers heading south to fight Gaddafi wouldn’t know how to use a gun if they had one. According to several volunteer fighters who returned injured to Benghazi, many of the fighters must wait until someone with a weapon is hit or killed in order to take their place.

The most popular tactic is to run and shoot, retreat a bit if taking fire, and regroup and try again. It’s more street fighting than military tactics.

On Saturday night, 31-year-old Hatem Ali Mustafa left his father’s house with five life-long friends to fight. They carried no guns, no phone and no money.

They hitched a ride to Ras Lanuf, expecting to be issued weapons and given orders. On Monday Mustafa was back in his father’s house, recovering from injuries after the pick-up truck he was riding in flipped over after a missile struck the ground nearby, killing two of the passengers.

“There were some people handing out weapons, but there weren’t enough guns for everyone,” he said. He suffered shrapnel injuries in the head and leg. “There was no organization, and everyone does whatever they want. I didn’t see one officer. Locals provided food and water, but we had to sleep on the ground.”

The hospitals in Ras Lanuf and the larger town Ajdabiya are packed with injured and bodies of the dead, Mustafa said. But he added that although Gaddafi’s forces are better trained and organized, he would return to the front once he has recovered.

Military sources in Benghazi said Gaddafi has never trusted the regular army to be loyal to him, and because of this he equipped only his special forces and mercenaries. Being a regular soldier meant wearing a uniform, drawing a salary, and little more.

Volunteers who want to oust Gaddafi from power can either drive down to the front and fight, or they can first go to one of the three recruitment centers in Benghazi for some pre-battle instruction. So far, says instructor Mohammed Abdullah, who worked as a security guard at the German embassy in Cairo, they have trained around 2,000 people to use firearms no larger than an AK- 47.

“There are a lot of people that don’t know how to use weapons and there are also those who don’t like to follow orders,” he said. “So some people come here to learn a bit first, and others just go to fight without any knowledge or weapons.

“Gaddafi has a lot of weapons and people who follow orders. We are not organized at all, and we even fight amongst ourselves. There is no strategy.
Thank god the people in Ras Lanuf are giving us blankets and food.”

On Monday, Jadallah Azous Al-Talhi, a former Libyan prime minister went on the state-controlled television station and called for negotiations. The rebel council in Benghazi rejected any talks with Gaddafi.