Morale Suffers In Libyan Rebel Camp, As Air Support Falls Short
After friendly fire deaths from NATO air strikes, rebels realize the West's air support is not enough to topple Gaddafi.
BENGHAZI - The latest martyrs of the Libyan revolution were being honored during Friday prayers in Benghazi. The coffins were transported by car to the central plaza, filled with the faithful, in front of the waterfront city hall. Their names were added to those whose portraits decorate the walls of the court, a location that has become a symbol of the Libyan revolution.
These last deaths, however, were not victims of Muammar Gaddafi's troops, but rather fighters killed on Thursday by "friendly fire" during a NATO air strike. A NATO plane had targeted tanks, which were being deployed for the first time by the revolutionaries against Gaddafi forces, who still hold the oil terminal at Brega along the Gulf of Syrte route. The strike killed between four and six people, with reports still difficult to verify.
This recent error, the third since the beginning of the air strikes, is not only one of friendly fire, which is unfortunately a common mistake in any war. But it also illustrates the limitations of air strikes employed in a confusing confrontation between disorganized insurgents and loyal forces that are able to maintain morale and initiative.
This blunder adds to a spreading feeling of disillusionment that now prevails in Benghazi, where many are beginning to realize that the aerial support of the West alone is not enough to topple Gaddafi, who continues to cling to power in Tripoli. In addition, it has become apparent to the insurgents that they do not have the capacity to execute an advance toward the western part of Libya, much less defend themselves against a new offensive on Benghazi by government troops.
"We have lost our good morale," says a man who goes by the name of Gibani, an exiled Libyan who returned from Los Angeles in order to "support the revolution." "Many people are afraid, and have moved their families out of Benghazi, to the north, in case Gaddafi returns. We don't know what is going to happen."
An army is more than just equipment
Some signs this week, however, indicated that the Libyan revolutionaries had undertaken the task of organizing their troops. Tanks, old T-55s dating back to the 1960s, as well as more modern T-72s captured from Gaddafi's forces and put back into service, were transported by semi trucks along the route to Brega on Thursday morning. Trucks with rocket launchers were sent to lead a counter-offensive against this small town seized by the government last week.
But equipment alone does not constitute an army, and the disorganization is more difficult to compensate for than deficiencies in weapons. The NATO commander was not notified about the arrival of tanks among the revolutionaries, and until now forces loyal to Gaddafi were the only ones using them. The error, easily made since pilots cannot distinguish one tank from another, happened just hours after the tanks were put into service by the insurgents.
"We are in a situation of war, and errors like that happen," declared the military commander of the revolutionary forces, Abdul Fattah Younes. "Our forces withdrew to positions near Ajdabiya where we are now."
Listening to the general, who appears very sure of himself in his camouflaged uniform and red shoulder-pads, standing behind his desk in the conference room of Benghazi's Hotel Aouzou, one would think that he is describing military operations of which he is in complete control. But the situation on the ground is much more complicated, with the few forces available for deployment continuing to prove incapable of holding their ground.
Ajdabiya is now nearly emptied of its inhabitants. The entrance to the city is not heavily defended, and nothing seems able to prevent Gaddafi's forces, who are situated about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away, from entering the city once again.
Read the original article in French.
Photo - Al Jazeera