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30-05-11 08:41 PM

Not so quiet on the western front
Not so quiet on the western front


THE rebel in the back seat had long hair, a wild beard, and sang The Unforgiven, his favourite tune by llica, a rock band from Los Angeles. His lips formed the words Never free, never me, as music blasted from the car stereo. Ayman, who did not give his full name for fear of reprisals against his relatives still in areas under Colonel Qaddafis control, joined the revolution soon after it began in eastern Libya. An accountant from the small rebel-held town of Nalut, some 235km (146 miles) south-west of Tripoli, the capital, he promised not to cut his hair until the dictator is gone.

The car sped towards a border crossing with Tunisia near Wazin, which the rebels captured a month ago. As the rebels get all their fuel, food and spare parts from Tunisia, Colonel Qaddafis forces in the nearby hamlet of Ghezaia have been trying in vain to cut their supply line. The road passes through the rebel-held Maraba pass on the edge of the Nafusa mountains. The rebels have used bulldozers to barricade the road through the pass with rocks, sand and knocked-out tanks filled with stones.

On May 17th the colonels forces started attacking the pass with some 30 pickup trucks and armoured personnel carriers. While pounding the rebels in the hillside with rockets, they brought in a bulldozer to clear the first barricade. A tank finally entered the gorge, only to find that its cannon was unable to tilt far enough up to fire at the rebels above. Army snipers climbed the ridge but came under fire from rebel anti-aircraft guns mounted on pick-up trucks.

After eight hours of fierce fighting the soldiers retreated, leaving the tank and bulldozer behind. The rebels numbered around 500 men by the time reinforcements had arrived from the nearby rebel-held towns of Jadu and Zintan.

This time they fended off the colonels troops. But they sorely lack training. None of their more sophisticated weapons (some provided by Qatar) hit their targets. By the time the loyalist soldiers had retreated, the rebels had lost ten men to artillery and sniper fire. A survivor pointed to the sky and asked where NATOs aircraft had been all day. In the past they have bombed targets near Zintan but not around Wazin or Nalut. Even so, the colonels forces have suffered enough raids in the past two months to have become exhausted. And the rebels in the west, ill-trained as they are, are proving more than a nuisance.


05:35 PM

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