The One Billion Dollar Question: Who Are the Libyan Rebels?

Posted on August 27, 2011


REBEL fighters geared up yesterday to launch a final offensive on Sirte, fleeing Libyan strongman Muhamah Gaddafi’s hometown where he is believed to be hiding.
British and French Special Forces are on the ground in eastern Libya, calling in air strikes and helping to co-ordinate rebel units as they prepare for the assault on the town, the last coastal town still in the hands of pro- Gaddafi forces, a rebel officer said.
The Guardian of UK said the soldiers have taken a leading role not only in guiding bombers to blast a path for opposition fighters, but also in planning the offensive that finally broke the six-month siege of Misrata, Mohammed Subka, a communications specialist in the Al Watum (My Home) brigade, said.
Yesterday afternoon, Subka and his unit waited at the rebel frontline, known as Kilometre Sixty, aboard a column of battered, black pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns and a few tanks recently captured from Gaddafi’s forces.
“We are with the England team, he said, adding: “They advise us.”
Kilometre Sixty lies in the flat, empty desert, no more than a sand-coloured mosque and a wrecked diner at a traffic intersection. Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, lies 80 miles away.
The advance on the city could not begin until loyalist units south of the road ahead were cleared from their positions, Subka said, flipping open his laptop to show a map – apparently provided by NATO– of artillery positions threatening the route. “We don’t worry about those units – they are NATO’s concern,” he said.
Defence sources have confirmed that British Special Forces have been on the ground in Libya for several weeks, along with special forces from Qatar, France and some eastern European states.
Subka said British and French units had been operating in Misrata for several weeks, based somewhere near the city’s sprawling port, Kasa Ahmed. Of the two, he said the British were the more friendly.
A common complaint among Misrata commanders earlier in the conflict was that Nato had no ready way to answer requests for air support when lightly-equipped forces were attacked by tanks and heavy artillery.
Subka, who was given the job of liaising with the British unit because he once worked as an aircraft despatcher at Tripoli airport, said that had now changed.
The alliance has provided sophisticated means of sending in requests for air strikes: “Sometimes email, sometimes VHF [radio],” he said. “You send it [the air strike request] to Misrata port.”
The NATO team also helped plan the first breakout of the rebels two weeks ago when they cut through the government ring around the city, capturing the town of Tawarga.
The plan demanded close co-ordination between the Halbus Brigade, making a frontal assault on the town, and a secondary thrust through the desert to cut Tawarga off from loyalist reinforcements.
Subka said the plan worked flawlessly. “It was a very beautiful plan,” he added. “The plan went to perfection, and not just the plan, also the timing. Even the NATO operations room sent us a commendation.”
The British and French units also helped opposition fighters assault Zlitan at the weekend in the first stage of the offensive that took rebel units into Tripoli.
Testimony to the deadly effect of NATO’s bombing was evident along the highway leading out of the city.
Concrete buildings used as bunkers by Gaddafi’s forces were flattened, while tanks were ripped apart, their turrets and tracks strewn across the road. Further south, all that remained of an ammunition truck was a blackened carpet of splinters.
Opposition commanders would rather avoid an attack on Sirte, hoping the fall of Tripoli will persuade its defenders to lay down their arms without a fight.
But a spate of attacks from Sirte on Misrata using scud missiles – the heaviest weapon in Gaddafi’s armoury – have added urgency to their advance.
At least four of the rockets have been intercepted seconds before they were due to impact on the city, reportedly hit by missiles fired by a US navy cruiser operating in the Gulf of Sirte.
Libyan commandos fighting Muammar Gaddafi came close to capturing the toppled leader on Wednesday when they raided a private home in Tripoli where he appeared to have been hiding, Paris Match magazine said yesterday.
Citing a source in a unit which it said was coordinating among intelligence services from Arab states and Libyan rebels, the French weekly said on its website that these services believed Gaddafi was still somewhere in the Libyan capital.
Gaddafi was gone from the unassuming safe house in central Tripoli when agents arrived about 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) on Wednesday after a tip-off from a credible source. But, the magazine said, they found evidence that he had spent at least one night there — though it did not say how recently that was.
The One Billion Dollar Question: Who Are the Libyan Rebels?.