Qaddafi's foray east fails to dampen Libya uprising
Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi pushed east today toward the oil town of Brega, but retreated west after clashes with 'Free Libyan' forces.
This morning, government forces moved into the coastal oil town of Brega, supported by fighter jets. Soon, fighting broke out between them and the town’s irregular militias and some soldiers who defected from Mr. Qaddafi’s military at the start of the uprising.
If Qaddafi could retake and hold Brega, it might reverse the uprising’s momentum and open up an easy route to push further into the east, wooing fence-sitters to his side and threatening Benghazi.
The young men and soldiers of Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the proclaimed capital of "liberated" eastern Libya, were determined not to let that happen, and rushed south.
Brega is located about 120 miles down the coast from Benghazi, and just 20 miles from the town of Ajdabiya, where MiG-23s dispatched by Qaddafi today and yesterday unsuccessfully tried to destroy a munitions dump.
By late afternoon, Qaddafi’s forces had been driven out, according to members of the transitional government in Benghazi and two Libyans on the ground reached by phone.
50 men, one misfiring gun
In Benghazi, the push on Brega and its oil-export terminal sent both regular forces who have defected to the “Free Libyan” side and thousands of the young men who led the uprising in its early days into a frenzy of activity.
At the April 7 Military Academy in Benghazi, which Qaddafi attended in the early 1960s and where he began laying the ground work for his 1969 coup, thousands of young men – many of whom had fought with rocks and Molotov cocktails to win this city two weeks ago – arrived to enroll in a citizen’s militia.
An organizer taking the names and phone numbers of the would-be soldiers said 5,000 signed up today, though there were no arms or equipment to be handed out. About three clusters of 50-or-so men gathered around one former soldier with either an AK-47 or a Fabrique Nationale (FN) rifle who demonstrated how the weapons work.
One instructor tried to fire his old FN into the air at the end of his demonstration. It misfired three times. Young men at the camp repeatedly said they’d like the US to send weapons or other material help.
“Most of us have nothing but stones,” says Saif Ali, a young man from Ajdabiya who came to Benghazi today looking for a rifle. “What we need are weapons and a no-fly zone.”
Armed pickups head south
Still, small groups of youths who had taken weapons from military depots during the uprising made their way south at least as far as Ajdabiya during the day, mostly in pickups with heavy machine guns mounted in the beds.