The fight for Libya

Chris McGreal reports:

Khalif Ameen leaped on the blackened tank, its innards hollowed out by the blast of a missile from an unseen plane, and waved his Kalashnikov as he declared the war all but won. “Now Gaddafi is finished. We have won Ajdabiya. We will not stop. Next Brega, Ras Lanuf, Sirte, Tripoli. Gaddafi will go quick,” said the young man who a few weeks ago was an engineering student.

But the burned-out remnants of the Libyan dictator’s armour abandoned on the outskirts of Ajdabiya after the strategic town finally fell to rebel forces told a different story that does not bode well for Ameen’s dream of marching all the way to Tripoli.

The fall of Ajdabiya after days of artillery duels and air bombardment delivered the Libyan revolutionaries their first significant victory over Muammar Gaddafi’s forces since the coalition air strikes began a week ago. The Libyan army sat outside town, astride the main coastal highway, blocking the rebels’ attempts to advance west toward the capital and recapture territory lost as Gaddafi found his footing after the initial shock of the uprising.

On Friday, the insurgents moved rocket launchers and other weapons down the road from Benghazi, then said they fought through the night with the dug-in enemy. “We hit them with our rockets and RPGs,” said Mohammed Rahim, a former regular soldier wearing a makeshift uniform of blue camouflage jacket and green trousers who went over to the rebels at the beginning of the uprising last month. “The fighting went on all night. It was a big battle. All the fighters came from Benghazi for it.”

However, the destruction of tanks on the edge of the town suggested it was air strikes by coalition forces, ostensibly to protect civilians, that had finally broken the back of strong resistance by army forces before the rebels moved in. The length of time it took the insurgents to overcome the army, and the rebels’ reliance on air strikes to destroy the bulk of its armour before finally taking Ajdabiya, confirmed how dependent the poorly armed and inexperienced revolutionaries are on foreign air forces to fight their war for them.

Al Jazeera reports:

Libyan rebels are advancing westwards after recapturing the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiya from government controls with the help of coalition air strikes.

Reports late on Saturday suggested rebels had already pressed onto the key oil-port town of Brega, 80 kilometres to the west.

“We are in the centre of Brega,” rebel fighter Abdelsalam al-Maadani told the AFP news agency by telephone. But Reuters said rebels were only on the outskirts of Brega.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, who reached Ajdabiya on Saturday, said that while it appeared that rebels had taken over the town of Brega, it remained unclear who controlled the nearby oil port.

Meanwhile, pro-Gaddafi forces were attacking the opposition-held city of Misurata in the west of the country with heavy shelling, witnesses said, drawing coalition air strikes against government military targets.

On Thursday, CNN reported:

For days, the wounded just kept coming to the 60-bed central hospital in Misrata, a city under siege from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. But there were no empty beds, no electricity — only generator power. No anesthesia or painkillers.

A doctor said 109 people have died in Misrata over the past week. Six were killed Thursday by Gadhafi’s rooftop snipers — unseen but too often precise. More than 1,300 others have been wounded since the protests erupted in the western city last month.

A minaret for a mosque in Misrata comes under continuous shelling until it collapses, March 19:

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The rebels of eastern Libya have found much to condemn about the police state tactics of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi: deep paranoia, mass detentions, secret prisons and tightly scripted media tours.

But some of those same tactics appear to be creeping into the efforts of the opposition here as it seeks to stamp out lingering loyalty to Kadafi. Rebel forces are detaining anyone suspected of serving or assisting the Kadafi regime, locking them up in the same prisons once used to detain and torture Kadafi’s opponents.

For a month, gangs of young gunmen have roamed the city, rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies.

Over the last several days, the opposition has begun rounding up men accused of fighting as mercenaries for Kadafi’s militias as government forces pushed toward Benghazi. It has launched nightly manhunts for about 8,000 people named as government operatives in secret police files seized after internal security operatives fled in the face of the rebellion that ended Kadafi’s control of eastern Libya last month.

“We know who they are,” said Abdelhafed Ghoga, the chief opposition spokesman. He called them “people with bloodstained hands” and “enemies of the revolution.”

Any suspected Kadafi loyalist or spy who does not surrender, Ghoga warned, will face revolutionary “justice.”

Rebels have also detained scores of Libyans they say were captured during battles with government forces in the last week or so.

On Wednesday, 55 terrified detainees were paraded in front of a busload of international journalists.

It was the first time the opposition’s month-old transitional national council had organized such a controlled bus tour, and it featured some of the same restrictions placed on journalists taken on tours in Tripoli by the Kadafi regime: no interviews and no close-up photographs of prisoners.

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