Last Updated: Thu Sep 22, 2011 13:24 pm (KSA) 10:24 am (GMT)

At Libya’s Bani Walid, chaos not Qaddafi is the killer

Anti-Qaddafi fighters prepare their weapons at a strategic checkpoint north of the besieged Libyan city of Bani Walid, as forces loyal to Libya's new government prepare for a full-scale assault to retake one of Muammar Qaddafi's last remaining strongholds. (Photo by Reuters)
Anti-Qaddafi fighters prepare their weapons at a strategic checkpoint north of the besieged Libyan city of Bani Walid, as forces loyal to Libya's new government prepare for a full-scale assault to retake one of Muammar Qaddafi's last remaining strongholds. (Photo by Reuters)

His comrades dive into the sand as the gun of a Libyan revolutionary sprays bullets around them, seemingly friendly fire gone mad. Nearby, a shell − one of their own − explodes, killing another comrade.

On the battlefront of Bani Walid it is chaos, not the loyalists of Muammar Qaddafi, which is the killer among troops of the new Libyan regime.

Nearly a week after launching their attack on the vast oasis bastion of the ousted leader, the forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC) have only inched forward − often then to pull back again − and to daily curse the losses among their men.

Amid the grumbling, the troops constantly cite a lack of coordination between their different units and the absence of a unified command to direct this battle in the desert, some 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of the capital, Tripoli.

Some disgruntled fighters even suggest “treason” by those comrades who come originally from Bani Walid, saying they hesitate to throw themselves into the offensive fearing for their families still in the town.

“In the next few days, we will have a better organization,” says Commander Yussef al-Droubi, based some 30 kilometers (nearly 20 miles) away from the front.

That front line flexes as the battle rages, advancing but then falling back as the attacking forces meet fierce resistance and are unable to consolidate positions taken inside the town.

“We are working to set up a better coordination system which enables us to act like a regular (army) at war,” added the commander.

It is not hard to find evidence of chaos and disorganization. One pro-NTC fighter, for whatever reason, was firing in the air near his comrades when he “lost control” of his weapon which continued firing on its own in all directions.

At the same time, four other fighters were packed around a stack of rockets in a vehicle being driven nearby when one exploded, killing one of them.

Confusion, criticism and protests fuel a debate in which some voices can be heard calling for “more experienced and more competent” commanders to direct the offensive.

“Coordination is the only thing we lack,” commented one man in front of his fellow fighters near a field hospital, some 30 kilometers from the front, set up to care for the wounded and look after the dead.

For journalists, the quest for information is also a challenge and evidence of the chaos. Local leaders announced a news conference to be held for Tuesday to give details of the military operations. It was put off until Wednesday. Finally it was cancelled.

In the same way, an announcement that an “Operations Centre” was to be set up to manage the offensive, led to nothing.

The disorganization helped pro-Qaddafi forces on Wednesday to target an NTC position some 15 kilometers (10 miles) from town, hitting it with four Grad rockets and sending fighters fleeing in confusion.

Some troops in anger accuse journalists, more and more of whom are leaving the area, of giving directions to the Qaddafi forces.

Despite the problems, one local NTC official, Abdallah Kenshil, announced that a “decisive battle” supported by tanks would take place in the next 48 hours.

But again, nothing is certain.

Commander Droubi contradicts him. “We need time to prepare the attack well and to better study the topography of the town and we are going to take our time.”

That confusion appeared echoed minutes earlier when an ambulance and a civilian vehicle collided just outside the field hospital.

Comments »

Post Your Comment »