Benghazi Basic Training: Can Libya’s Ragtag Rebels Shape Up In Time?

At the gates of Benghazi, military training is being dispensed to all those eager to go to the frontlines. But enthusiasm can’t make up for poor hardware.

Checkpoint Brega
Checkpoint Brega
Adrien Jaulmes

BENGHAZI – In a camp near the southern entrance of Benghazi, a group of would-be soldiers of the Libyan revolutionary army are sitting loosely on the ground. Some wear mismatched uniforms, but most are dressed in civilian clothes. Another group is set to begin studying how to operate a Kalashnikov. Before getting down to business, the men all shout a hearty "Liberty! Freedom!"

"You must first remove the clip and verify the chamber," says the instructor, his head covered by a helmet painted in black, green and red, the colors of the Libyan revolution. He shows the gun to 50 or so young men and teenagers sitting under the blinding sun.

While another group focuses on a battered 14.5 mm anti-aircraft machine gun, others gather around a multiple rocket-launcher barely larger than a wheelbarrow. This piece of equipment made in Korea is all the artillery Libyan revolutionary can count on. "This kind of launcher has only a nine kilometer range, compared with more than 20 kilometers for the Grad rocket-launchers used by Gaddafi's forces' the instructor explains.

"The training lasts about three weeks," says Nasser el-Cheikh, one of the experienced soldiers in charge of the program. "The first two weeks are dedicated to theoretical learning, and the last one to the actual practice. Then recruits are sent to the front. During Gaddafi's rule, people actually paid money to avoid doing their military service; now volunteers keep coming to us."

Most are just out of high school. Odeifa is exactly 18 years old, but he is already almost a veteran, given his involvement in the triumphant victory obtained by the rebels in Sirte at the beginning of last month. Odeifa's joy did not last long however, since the victory was followed by rapid retreat. The desire to improve his military skills brought him to this training camp. "We were pushed back from Ras Lanouf to Brega and Ajdabiya. So I think I need more proper training."

Econ majors join the fight

Abdel Mounim Fawzi and Djouma Mohammed are two friends studying economics at the Gar Younès University in Benghazi. "We took part in the demonstrations when the revolution started," Fawzi says. "Now we want to learn how to fight." His cousin was killed by Gaddafi's police at the beginning of the uprising.

Other trainees are considerably older. "I am ready to go and fight," says Mofteh Logelli, a 57-year-old electrician who has now become a specialist in handling multiple rocket-launchers. "I am here to defend my country against Gaddafi, who is keen on killing his own people. I have seen men older than me that want to fight alongside the young. And nobody is paying us for this, unlike Gaddafi's mercenaries."

Recruits are divided in three groups. The first is trained to protect the rear positions: the volunteers will be in charge of protecting control points in the streets of Benghazi and along the roads in Cyrenaica. The second group -- which is given a more substantial theoretical training – will be defending strategic installations such as public buildings, oil rigs and airports. The third group is trained by the actual fighters, destined to be sent to the front.

Nouri Tawi is a former officer of the Libyan special forces. Having retired from the army 22 years ago, he has now returned to his military past as an instructor for the revolutionary forces. A veteran of the Libyan military adventures in Chad in the 1980s, he explains just how shabby Gaddafi's army really is.

"After the defeat in Chad, Gaddafi dismantled most of his units and forced his officers to retire. He didn't trust them and he was wary of their popularity. So he stopped sending any money or new equipment to them. The only troops spared were the ones under the command of Gaddafi's son Khamis. Now we start from scratch."

Just as the Libyan revolution itself, the recruits in the camp are joyful, full of fervor, but cruelly lacking organization and competent leaders. "The young men here are very eager and intelligent," says Nouri Tawi, the instructor in charge of the course on small arms. "But what we really need are modern weapons to replace the current old Soviet equipment. We could use some anti-tank missiles, and radios too. We have suffered for poor communications systems. And we could also use some good leaders."

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Al Jazeera

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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