First Published: 2011-03-23

 

Libyan fighters: rebels without an officer

 

Officers and military personnel who defected to Libyan opposition no longer seen with rebels.

 

Middle East Online

By Sara Hussein - OUTSIDE AJDABIYA, Libya

'There's no one in charge'

Kamal Mohamed stands with rebel fighters atop a sand dune, trying to spot Libyan government forces in the distance. His toes curl over his flip-flops into the sand, he has no weapons.

Nowhere to be seen are the military officers who defected to the rebel side, or the heavy military materiel captured from government forces as they withdrew from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi earlier in the week.

As Mohamed peers south, towards the outskirts of the key town of Ajdabiya, where forces loyal to Moamer Gathafi are arrayed, a small group of rebel fighters set out into the desert, planning an "ambush" of government troops.

Their civilian clothes are starkly visible in the bright sun, dark against the hot desert sand. Some hold Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades, others nothing more than a knife.

Within minutes they are spotted and tank fire begins to land all around, whizzing through the air and thudding down, sending up a spray of sand.

Mohamed and others dash down the sand dune, tripping, landing on each other. He loses a flip-flop in the desperate retreat, scooping it into one hand as he tries to escape the incoming fire.

He smiles apologetically when asked about the wisdom of launching an "ambush" in the middle of the day, with such a lightly-armed force.

"We don't know what we're doing," he admits. "They don't know about military strategy, they are just trying to help."

Mohamed, a 31-year-old plumber, is in even worse a position than many of the young men gathered on the so-called front -- he lacks any sort of weapon.

"I'm waiting for someone to be killed, then I'll take whatever he has and try to use it."

Among the rag-tag group of rebels gathering each day outside Ajdabiya, officers and military personnel who defected to the opposition are noticeable by the absence.

"You can see, it's only kids, and everyone is running everywhere he wants. It's not really organised," says 54-year-old Jamal Zelitny, an oil engineer carrying a Kalashnikov he says he has yet to fire.

"They need someone to organise them. The kids just take things into their own hands before taking advice from the people who are in charge."

Also noticeably absent from the frontline rebel position is any of the heavy military materiel that the opposition forces have captured in recent weeks, including tanks and armoured vehicles.

Instead, when Gathafi forces open fire with tanks and heavy artillery, the young men flee in pick-up trucks and ordinary cars. In one retreat, at least five are seriously wounded. Two appear to be dead.

Khaled al-Sayeh, the outgoing spokesman for the rebel's military council, says the opposition forces are trying to "minimise casualties" to their side, but that the young rebels are difficult to control.

They are there "against the better judgement of a lot of people," he said.

"They are mostly from the area of Ajdabiya and are very anxious to get to their loved ones and the control over them has been quite difficult."

But on the frontline, Mohamed says he is eager for leadership and wants to know why military officers who have defected to the opposition are nowhere to be seen.

"We're angry, we don't understand. We don't have any communications with them," he said, after a second mad dash away from a volley of tank fire.

"We want commanders, we want advice, we don't know what we're doing. There's no one responsible here, there's no one in charge."

Among some rebel fighters, Zelitny included, there is faith that opposition military forces are carrying out their own "secret operations."

But incoming military council spokesman, Air Force colonel Ahmed Bani, denies that the professional military opposition are acting independently.

"We are absolutely not working separately," he said. "We are preparing ourselves now for the big battle, in terms of weapons, in terms of strategy," he said, declining to give any specifics on preparations or attack plans.

He also refuses to comment on the location of captured heavy military materiel, insisting only that it will be used when appropriate.

But Bani admits that there is no communication with the young men heading to the front each day, where enthusiasm for the fight remains high despite the impossible odds.

"It's difficult," Zelitny says. "But I'll keep coming here until Gathafi's gone."

 

Iraq operation to liberate Anbar faces barrage of criticism

Coalition raids target headquarters of rebel troops in Yemen capital

Libya PM survives assassination attempt

EU calls for resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks

Arrest of several FIFA leaders as part of twin corruption inquiry

Fast pace of executions in Saudi Arabia 'very disturbing'

Tunisia begins hearings into ex-regime's rights abuses

‘Islamic State’ executes 20 men in ruins of Syria ancient city

Saudi Arabia announces sanctions against two Hezbollah leaders

Libya to fight aggression with 'strength'

Iran says nuclear talks could go beyond deadline

Hamas accused of committing war crimes against civilians

German court rejects Yemenis' case over US drone killings

Kuwait emir urges Muslim states to fight extremism

NY Times journalist has Turkish citizenship revoked

Military site inspections necessary to Iran deal

Iraqi forces on outskirts of Ramadi

Syrian refugees ignored at Turkey poll campaign

Director 'shocked' at Morocco’s prostitution film ban

US criticises Shiite name of Iraqi military operation

Israel warplanes strike Gaza after rocket attack

Pro-government fighters retake Yemen city from Shiite rebels

Libya militias trap civilians in Benghazi

EU border agency plans to expand migrant rescue operation

Syria state TV blames ‘foreign enemies’ for signal jamming

Palestinians and jihadists clash in Yarmouk

Iraq refugees forced back into conflict zones

Kuwait restores Islamist lawmaker's citizenship

Washington Post reporter goes on trial behind closed doors in Iran

Iraq launches operation to drive ‘Islamic State’ from Anbar

New airport in restive eastern Turkey

Iran ‘thwarts’ US cyber attack on Oil Ministry’

Egypt opens border crossing with Gaza for 48 hours

Litany of problems keep Iraqi army weak and ineffective

Rouhani: most Iranians favour peace

Iran Foreign Minister discusses Yemen conflict in neutral Oman

Palestinians dismiss Netanyahu initiative

Three Moroccans jailed for homosexuality

Oxfam: 16 million Yemenis have no access to clean water

US, Iraq at loggerheads over Ramadi

Soldier kills comrades in Tunisia barracks shooting

Netanyahu names rightist ally as new Foreign Ministry chief

Iraq rejects US criticism of security forces over defeat in Ramadi

Hezbollah captures hilltops from Qaeda wing in Syria

Saudi Shiites hold mass funeral for victims of mosque bombing