Captive soldiers tell of discord in Libyan army

C J Chivers reports from Misrata:

The army and militias of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, who for more than two months have fought rebels seeking to overthrow the Libyan leader, are undermined by self-serving officers, strained logistics and units hastily reinforced with untrained cadets, according to captured soldiers from their ranks.

In interviews this week in a rebel-run detention center where more than 100 prisoners from the Libyan military are housed, the prisoners consistently described hardships in the field and officers who deceived or failed them. They spoke bitterly of their lot.

While some showed signs of mistreatment or of making statements to ingratiate themselves with their captors, the accounts of their logistical and tactical problems portrayed a Libyan force suffering from growing problems in a war that began as a mismatch, settled into stalemate and has recently shown signs of rebel advance.

On one hand, Libyan military units and militias went to war with clear material and organizational advantages, equipped with tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, rockets and vast stores of munitions. They arrived to battle with trained snipers and mortar, rocket and artillery crews.

On the other, the Libyan Defense Ministry thickened the ranks with veterans recalled to duty in poor physical condition and cadets with almost no combat training or experience.

Then, after facing weeks of airstrikes and a growing rebel force, some of these units were cut off, prisoners said, and officers betrayed the rank and file.

“The commanders told us, ‘Stay here and we will be back with more ammunition,’ ” said a cadet who claimed to have been pressed into service as an untrained infantryman last month, and was assigned to the fight for this city’s center. “But they did not come back, and the rebels surrounded us and we had to put down our weapons and quit.”

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