Sunday, July 31, 2011
The Battle for Libya
Chill winds in Arab Spring
From: The Australian August 01, 2011 12:00AM
ACHIEVING the hopes for freedom and democracy born of the Arab Spring was never going to be easy, and any illusions about how difficult that task is should be dispelled by events in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and in Cairo's Tahrir Square, crucible of Egypt's revolution.
In Benghazi, it has emerged that General Abdel Fattah Younes, the most high profile defector from the Gaddafi regime and one of the few leaders able to organise the anti-Gaddafi militants, was killed by members of a hardline Islamist militia group, the Abu Obeida al-Jarrah Brigade. One of 30 similar Islamist groups operating with the rebels, the brigade, ominously, has charge of security in Benghazi. While it may not be precisely the al-Qa'ida link Muammar Gaddafi has claimed is behind the uprising, its prominence will add to concern about the extent to which Islamists hold sway within the rebel movement.
Similarly, in Egypt the degree to which Islamists - including the Muslim Brotherhood and the extremist Salafists, whose creed is total Islamic jihad - have overtaken the democratic movement that ousted Hosni Mubarak has been demonstrated by a significant show of strength that is a turning point in the revolution. The secular democrats who led the uprising were nowhere in sight. Increasingly, they are in despair. The Islamists made it plain they want Sharia law. The cry that echoed across Tahrir Square as a counterpoint to all the hopeful calls for freedom and democracy heard only a few months ago was "Islamic, Islamic . . . neither secular nor liberal".
The challenges for the West in Libya and Egypt are vastly different. In the former, NATO's campaign to dislodge Gaddafi has taken longer than expected. There is an urgent need now to do whatever it takes to bring it to a speedy conclusion before all the optimism that accompanied the early days of the uprising is lost and the Islamists gain even more influence. In Egypt, the military junta has done little to thwart the emergence of the Islamists. Instead, by their opaque handling of the post-Mubarak challenge, they have undercut the secular democrats and played into the hands of the extremist elements.
From the outset there was a tendency by some to underplay the potential for Islamists to gain in the Arab Spring. They must not be allowed to derail the ideals of freedom and democracy on which it was founded.
Libyan Rebels Wage 'Mad Max' War In The Mountains
by LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO
August 2, 2011
The sleepy towns in the Western Mountains of Libya come to life right before the country's rebels engage in a fight with the forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The mostly deserted roads suddenly fill with pickup trucks. The rebel fighters bristle with the makeshift weapons that they rely on. The vehicles, some monster trucks, then peel off into the front lines deep in the desert, covered in dried mud that serves as camouflage.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have often featured large, well-trained armies facing off against insurgents who also have modern weapons. But Libya is a "Mad Max" kind of war.
The Western Mountains, also known as the Nafusa Mountains, rise up from Libya's flat coastal plains like a wall of rock. Their stark brown cliffs form a natural defensive barrier.
For months the rebels there were essentially cut off. Gadhafi's troops had these mountains surrounded, and the rebels had to fight with whatever was on hand. And there wasn't much: ancient World War II rifles, some Kalashnikov guns, but everything else had to be scavenged.
But as the rebels pushed Gadhafi's forces back, they were able to raid his weapons storehouses. Some turned up surprising items like U.S. Navy practice rounds, provenance unknown. The rebels have been using them in the fighting, not realizing that they are simply duds.
Some of the heaviest fighting in the war is taking place in the mountains, and there aren't enough guns to go around. At one rebel lookout on the edge of a mountain cliff, the fighters only had four tank rounds for their tank. Had they known, Gadhafi's fighters stationed nearby could have attacked at any time, and there was no way the rebels could have been resupplied.
To supplement their arsenal, the rebels have become creative. One fighter made a rocket launcher from an old barbecue, with long tubes for firing projectiles positioned on top of what had been the grill. It looks like you could cook meat in the back blast of the rocket fire.
The fighters themselves are also a motley crew. Professors, students, lawyers, engineers, doctors, laborers and taxi drivers have all taken up arms and headed to the front lines. They've become battle hardened, but still lack discipline.
The rebels in the Nafusa mountains have made gains in recent weeks, using their bravado and their rusty guns to lethal effect. But the fighting is still far from over.