Saturday, February 26, 2011

Col. Tarek Saad Hussin at Bengasi

The March on Tripoli -

Friday, February 25, Day 9 - of the February 17 Revolution,

- a Report from Tripoli: “…. ‘Aysha,’.... said men had been taken from their homes by security forces and those wounded or killed in the unrest had disappeared…Aysha said she believed a march was being planned by some ‘boys’ and she was scared by reports that Gadafy had mustard gas and would use it on demonstrators….”

[Irish Times, Saturday, February 26, 2011]

“She believed a march was being planned by some ‘boys’….”

The reports from Bengazi were that young men were arming themselves with weapons from abandoned police stations and military barracks and planning to march to Tripoli and liberate it.

As the Battle of Tripoli 2011 looms ominously, the battleground epicenter will undoubtedly be at Green Square, well known to military historians, especially Americans knowledgeable about the Barbary Wars.

Americans are most familiar with Tripoli from the War against the Barbary Pirates (1798-1805), primarily a naval war in which the US Mediterranian fleet went up against the pirate navies of Morroco, Algiers, Tunisia and Tripoli (Libya).

The American Navy instituted a blockade of Tripoli harbor for years, and lost the frigate USS Philadelphia when it ran aground and its 300 man crew captured and held for ransom as prisoners in the dungeons of the Old Castle Fort.

Under the command of Captain Preble, Lts. Stephen Decatur and Richard Somers each led task forces that attacked the pirate fleet in Tripoli Harbor on two occasions, and Decatur scuttling the Philadelphia in a daring nighttime raid and Somers was killed in a similar, suicide mission, along with twelve other men, eight of whom are still buried in unmarked graves at Green Square.

But that was only two hundred years ago, while Tripoli goes back three centuries, when Rome and Cartridge were major civilizations, and Roman emperor Marcus Ariluious hailed from Tripoli, and Hanibal assembled his army to march on Rome.

In the film Ben Hur, there is a scene where the Roman centurian presents a gift from Libya where they fought a great battle that lasted two days.

Italian dictator Benito Musolini gave a speech from the same platform of the Old Castle Fort as Ghadafi did the other day, and Rommel plotted his Africa Corps strategy from the docks at Tripoli. (See: Photos of Musolini and Rommel at Green Square).

The American military cemetery at Tunisia holds the graves of thousands of American soldiers killed in action in North Africa during World War II.

Then there was the scene in Patton where the general drives though ancient Roman ruins and stops to reflect on the armies that fought there centuries ago and how the tide of history changed there.

Saturday, February 26, 2011 – Day 10 of the February 17 Revolution in Libya.

Col. Qaddafi’s forces had put down demonstrators, who had taken to the streets after Friday Prayers to mount their first major challenge to the government’s crackdown, with snipers from rooftops, buckshot, and tear gas, witnesses said. There were unconfirmed reports that an armed rebel force was approaching the city on Saturday.

A rebel officer who is coordinating an attack on Tripoli, Col. Tarek Saad Hussein, asserted in an interview that an armed volunteer force of about 2,000 men — including army defectors — was to arrive in Tripoli on Friday night. There was no way to confirm his claim.

Protesters in Tripoli said that they had heard a force was on its way from the eastern cities that had fallen to rebels, but that they had been stopped in Surt, a remaining Qaddafi stronghold halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi, the opposition-controlled city where the uprising began.

Colonel Hussein was especially angered at the reports of security forces’ firing on protesters after prayers. “They did not have weapons,” he said, speaking at an abandoned army base in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is firmly under rebel control. “They shot people outside the mosque.”

It was no longer possible to reach Tripoli’s central Green Square, the scene of many of the demonstrations — and much of the slaughter. The area was surrounded by checkpoints and barricades patrolled by members of the armed forces, Omar and other witnesses said.

The protesters in Tripoli appeared emboldened by promises of help from rebels outside the capital and the surprisingly strong showing of protesters in cities close to the capital on Thursday against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, which brought the rebellion to the capital’s doorstep.

A potentially large force of armed fighters sympathetic to the protesters was now converging on Tripoli, according to military officials and soldiers who had defected to the rebels.

Colonel Hussein said the force consisted of active duty, retired soldiers and army reservists who had joined the rebel side. It was sent to the capital in small groups, he said, adding that they carried a mixture of light arms and heavier weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades.

He did not offer more details about the size of the groups, or their route. The road to Tripoli from the country’s eastern cities is blocked to the rebels by the city of Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown.

Colonel Hussein said he was negotiating with tribal leaders and military officers in Surt to abandon the government, or at least not stand in the way of the rebels. “We’re appealing to the people of Surt to help us stop the bloodshed,” he said.

Army soldiers stationed at a barracks near Benghazi said on Friday that 200 to 250 of their colleagues had left the barracks in recent days, headed to Tripoli to fight Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.

A group of 60 or so officers stood outside another barracks in Benghazi on Friday, saying they were volunteering to go fight in Tripoli. Colonel Hussein said they were joining the battle because protesters were being killed. “In cold blood,” said Colonel Hussein.

Asked what would happen if Colonel Qaddafi was deposed or killed, Colonel Hussein said Libyans wanted a democracy.

“It was our duty to enter the fight,” he added. “The regime started this. They are the ones who brought the revolution.”

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