In disorganized surge, Libya's rebels push west along shifting front line
In three days, the nominally rebel-controlled zone on the eastern coast has extended about 150 miles. The rebels are now drawing closer to Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown.
Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad, Libya
Sitting in the bed of a pickup rumbling full throttle toward the frontlines of the Libyan opposition’s struggle against Muammar Qaddafi, Salim Fatah bin Kayali grins into the wind and insists “there’s no stopping us now.”Skip to next paragraph
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The bookish and deeply pious young man is sharing a 25-year-old AK-47 with a friend from his hometown of Derna and admits he’s never fired the weapon before.
He participated with rocks and Molotov cocktails in the fight to drive Qaddafi’s forces from Derna, in eastern Libya, two weeks ago, and says he’s eager to do “whatever I can for our revolution. Qaddafi is a terrorist, and he’s divided our people and stole our money for too long.” His father – who was jailed for seven years after a business deal he made with a relative of Qaddafi’s soured -- produced the old rifle when his son insisted he was heading west.
But today, Mr. Kayali was destined for disappointment along with his truckload of would-be rebel fighters, as the front line kept shifting ever westward before they could catch up.
Kayali is part of a disorganized surge west of pickups, private sedans, and ambulances carrying doctors and medical supplies. Under way for days, it is also bringing food provided by businessmen in Ajdabiya and Benghazi, ammunition salvaged from military bases, and about a thousand men determined to take the fight to Qaddafi.
A strange, almost formless war
It’s part of a strange, almost formless war that would shock the Allied and Axis generals that contested the northern Libyan Desert for years during fierce fighting in World War II.
The irregulars of the emerging rebel army, with limited coordination, weak communications, and disorganized supply lines, appear to be easy pickings for any organized military force that might oppose them. But so far, they’ve gone from strength to strength against an enemy that appears even weaker.
Starting from the oil town of Brega, which saw fierce fighting as an incursion by Qaddafi loyalists was beaten back on Thursday, they raced 40 miles on, past the airport and oil refinery at Ras Lanuf, where bullet casings on the ground and burned-out cars are a reminder of the battle for control of this key city that the rebels won yesterday.
Ras Lanuf, which saw pitched battles yesterday that claimed 17 lives, is oddly quiet, with just a few militiamen at a checkpoint. The participants in the previous day’s battle have already pushed on along the coast. Thirty miles on comes the town of Bin Jawad, which the rebels seized this morning without much of a fight.
Here, the rebels are massing.