Monday, July 4, 2011

Rebel Action on the Western Front - Zintanis

"The problems with the Zintanis is they are all uneducated, they drink, they drive around at night in muddy pickup trucks with guns, and they won't leave," said a commander in Tripoli."

Internet Comment: Islamist hell, it sounds like Libya just got invaded by a bunch of Texans?

Zintan (Arabic: الزنتان‎, Berber: Ezzintan or Tigharmin, meaning "small castles" in Berber) is a small city in north western Libya, situated roughly 160 km southwest of Tripoli, in the Nafusa Mountains area. The city and its surrounding area has a population of approximately 50,000.

2011 Libyan civil war

The people of Zintan joined in the 2011 Libyan civil war. The Battle of Zintan reportedly began when the Gaddafi-led government forces arrived to recruit 1,000 soldiers. Insulted by the proposal to fight fellow Libyans, a group formed in Zintan to protest. As the group grew, pro-Gaddafi forces attacked but residents counterattacked with seized weapons, "rout[ing]" a large, heavily armed government convoy on 19-20 March.

As of April 2011 the Zintanis reportedly hold about 100 miles of territory, from the Wazzin border crossing with Tunisia toward Tripoli, and has begun offensive attacks against pro-Gaddafi forces.
Libyan rebels firmly in control in mountainous west

The famed warriors of the Western Mountains decisively beat back Moammar Kadafi's forces in a battle last month. It all started when the regime came asking for help.

April 23, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Beirut — Moammar Kadafi's forces came by the thousands with tanks, armored vehicles and rocket launchers to quell an uprising in the forbidding Western Mountains region of Libya.
They left Zintan last month in a rout, rebels and Western journalists say, running through the woods as residents of the rebellious city pursued them using weapons and equipment seized from troops. It was a decisive battle that exposed the far western flank of Kadafi's security forces.

Libya rebels poised for push towards Tripoli

By Andrew Beatty (AFP)

BENGHAZI, Libya — Buoyed by French arms drops and intensified NATO air strikes on the regime's frontline armour, Libya's rebel army said it is poised for an offensive that could put it within striking distance of Tripoli.

The rebels' announcement late on Saturday came as a prolonged deadlock on the battlefield prompted mounting pressure from countries outside the NATO-led coalition for a negotiated solution to a conflict that has dragged on for four and a half months.

Rebel fighters are readying an advance out of their hilltop enclave in the Nafusa Mountains, southwest of Tripoli, in the next 48 hours in a bid to recapture territory in the plains on the road to the capital, spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani said.

"In the next two days the (revolutionaries) will come up with answers, things will change on the front line," he said.

The rebels had pulled back last week from around the plains town of Bir al-Ghanam, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Tripoli, in the face of loyalist bombardment.

But last week France made a series of controversial weapons drops to rebel fighters in the Nafusa Mountains and NATO has bombarded loyalist positions around Bir al-Ghanam and elsewhere on the front line around the rebel enclave.

Two armoured vehicles belonging to Kadhafi forces were destroyed in the town on Friday night.

In Gharyan, another government stronghold near the mountains, NATO aircraft struck eight targets over the past four days, including a military complex used to resupply Kadhafi troops, tanks and other military vehicles, the alliance said on Saturday.

In its daily report for Friday, NATO said it had launched a total of 42 strike sorties over Libya, hitting two tanks near Gharyan and two armed vehicles near Bir al-Ghanam.

"March on the jebel (mountains) and seize the weapons that the French have supplied," he said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe insisted that the arms were meant only to defend peaceful civilians from Kadhafi's forces and thus fell in line with UN Security Council resolutions on the conflict.

"It is not a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions" under which France and other allies launched air strikes and imposed embargoes to protect civilians from Kadhafi, he said.

There was no immediate confirmation from Moscow of the talks between Russian and South African officials and representatives of the NATO-led coalition but both countries have been outspoken advocates of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

"President Jacob G. Zuma will undertake a working visit to the Russian Federation to participate in the meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya to be held on Sunday, July 3, 2011,"

the South African foreign ministry said, adding that the visit was at Moscow's invitation.

Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said the talks in Russia would include all members of the contact group, but could provide no further details.

The Kremlin said in a statement late Saturday that Zuma and President Dmitry Medvedev held a telephone conversation in which they agreed on a "personal meeting in the closest time" but gave no details on when it would take place.

The announcement by Pretoria came shortly after Zuma returned home from an African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea, where the continental grouping adopted a plan for negotiations between the warring Libyan parties.

"We are very happy that we have reached this point, that we can now say very soon we will be launching the talks in Addis Ababa and we believe we will get the necessary support from everyone," Zuma said after the summit.

But the accord reached in Equatorial Guinea produced little movement on earlier AU proposals, which have been rejected by the rebels who insist that Kadhafi must step down before they will agree to a truce.

New elements in the AU plan include provisions for a multinational peacekeeping force organised by the United Nations.

The bloc also says that Kadhafi has agreed to stay out of the negotiations.

NATO steps up airstrikes

More than 50 Libyan military targets destroyed in past week

By ADAM SCHRECK The Associated Press Sun, Jul 3

TRIPOLI, Libya — NATO said Saturday it has begun ramping up its airstrikes on military targets in the western part of Libya, where rebel forces claim a string of advances through territory still largely under Moammar Gadhafi’s control.

In a boost for Gadhafi, meanwhile, the African Union called on member states to disregard an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against the Libyan leader. That could enable Gadhafi to travel freely on the continent. The warrant was issued for his alleged role in a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters earlier this year.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim praised the AU’s decision, saying "we salute their courage." He said Gadhafi had no immediate plans to leave the country, however.
"We are at war with the mightiest armies in the world, and the safety of the leader is a must for us. So we need to keep him safe to lead us through this difficult time," he said.
Libya welcomed a road map for dialogue drafted by the AU that outlines plans for negotiations between the government and rebels, Moussa said.

He confirmed that Gadhafi would not be involved in the proposed talks, and expressed hope that a ceasefire could be reached "in the next few days, or weeks at most."

Gadhafi’s regime is determined to stand firm against opposition fighters moving from southern and eastern fronts toward the capital, Tripoli. The rebels have largely solidified control over the eastern third of Libya but have struggled to push out of pockets they hold in the west.

NATO’s comments about its latest airstrikes suggest the alliance is hoping to tip the balance further in the rebels’ favour despite threats by Gadhafi to carry out attacks in Europe unless the airstrikes stop.

The coalition said it has destroyed more than 50 military targets in the west this week. It says it is targeting government forces in cities and along "major lines of communication."

"We are engaging all military assets that are being used to indiscriminately target the civilian population throughout Libya," Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO’s Libya mission, said in the statement sent Saturday but dated the previous day.

NATO said more than 1.8 million civilians are at risk from a buildup of forces loyal to Gadhafi in western cities along the coast and in the Nafusa mountain range southwest of the capital.

Rebels control several Nafusa mountain towns and the vital port city of Misrata. The rest of western Libya, including the heavily protected capital Tripoli, remain under Gadhafi’s control.

Col. Ahmed Bani, a rebel spokesman, said Saturday that rebel fighters have pulled back in some parts of the west, in what he described as a "strategic retreat," but said they would go on the offensive again in the coming days. Asked about the NATO attacks in the area, he said they have been helpful to the rebels, but did not elaborate.


Until a few weeks ago, the rebellious towns in the Nafusah Mountains were struggling to survive on dwindling supplies of barley, water and gas, during a long siege by Muammar Gaddafi’s soldiers.

But after an improbable series of military victories over the past three weeks — with fewer than 100 rebel fighters killed, their military leaders say — residents of a broad area in this mountain region are celebrating virtual secession from Gaddafi’s Libya. While there have been defeats, and the Grad rockets of Gaddafi’s forces still menace the outskirts of Nalut near the Tunisian border and Yafran to the east, rebels point hopefully to the growing stability of the towns under their control as evidence of how tenuous Gaddafi’s grip may be.

“This is the new Libya,” said Anwar Fekini, a Sorbonne-educated French-Libyan lawyer, rebel organiser and local tribal leader who returned for a weekend trip to his ancestral home to strategise with local allies. “It feels good.”

He delicately accepted an aging Belgian rifle from two gray-haired rebel fighters, just for safekeeping.

The Nafusah Mountains have emerged as a strategically significant front in the battle for Libya, in part because the rebels there are closest to Gaddafi’s stronghold in the capital, Tripoli, and in part because they have the potential to cut off vital supply lines from the border. And though barely trained and few in number — one rebel leader estimated that there were about 2,000 armed fighters — they have used their knowledge of the terrain and the sympathies of much of the local population to expand their territory as the fighting around Benghazi to the east and Misrata on the central coast has moved toward a stalemate.

The rebels have established firm control of more than a half-dozen towns from the Dhiba border crossing into Tunisia, where rebel guards mingle amiably with their Tunisian counterparts, to the major town of Yafran, a 90-minute drive from Tripoli. Indeed, on a tour from the border to the front beyond Yafran, rebel security seemed extraordinarily light, with hardly any guards at the Dhiba crossing. Teenagers were running checkpoints along the road, and some front-line posts were unmanned.

After months of an exodus driven by the fighting in the mountains, refugees returning home jam the border crossing in a long line. This weekend, several Tripoli residents arrived to take refuge with their families, as well.

Change of heart

In many towns, local authorities say that most of the Gaddafi government employees kept working as the rebels took over, and the same police officers now patrol the streets in fresh new rebel uniforms. Their own makeshift jails house captured soldiers.

At least seven local newspapers — photocopied newsletters — have sprung up to capitalise on the new freedom of the press. In Rogeban, each issue of a new paper produced by a history professor includes both a “face of the revolution” feature on a local activist and a short civics lesson introducing concepts that may be useful in discussing Libya’s future, like “confederation” or “federalism.”

Rogeban residents have covered the walls with cartoons mocking Gaddafi and decorated public spaces with shards of his military’s Grad rockets. A new museum Yafran celebrates local culture and achievements, with one room devoted to the armaments fired at local communities and another archiving the new newspapers.

There is also a media center in Yafran. The founder said he had received five visitors. “But we’re expecting a lot more,” he said.

Across the border in Tunisia, a small industry has sprung up to furnish baseball hats and T-shirts emblazoned with the tricolor pre-Gaddafi Libyan flag that the rebels have adopted as their own.

Ground organization

Local doctors say they are better equipped with supplies than they were before the uprising, in part because of the generosity of wealthier Libyans abroad. The rebels have even painted a runway along more than a mile of highway, in the hopes that planes might land with more weapons and supplies. In the latest victory, several members of the Libyan national soccer team defected from Tripoli and entered the Nafusah Mountains on June 24 to declare their support for the insurrection.

Residents in the mountains here have long been resentful of the Gadaffi government, in part because perhaps a third are members of the Berber ethnic minority. For decades Gadaffi denied and suppressed the existence of their culture, language and sect of Islam, and in Berber centers like Jadu, Nalut and Yafran, the Berber symbols have been added to the rebel flag.

“We are fighting for truth and they are not,” he said. “The fighters from Zintan and Jadu will come here and we will all go together. We are all Libyans. We are not alone.”


"You rats, you sons of rats, we are coming to get you." The voice of the regime loyalist crackled on the rebel radio.

Under the pine trees behind a sand barrier defence on Misurata's western front line, the boys of the Martyr brigade laughed, and returned a torrent of insults. The group's anti-aircraft gun was pointed outwards to the open expanse of fields where the loyalist troops roam.

The bonds between the young men were forged in the urban battles that raged for months on Misurata's Tripoli Street. Now they are to learning adapt to the front line of open war.

For more than a month, the fighters have been stationed at the end of a dirt track that delineates the western front line at Dafniya. Long range shelling; pounding mortars, BM21 'Grad' missiles, and katyusha rockets define their new war.

"Before we were street fighters, you slept on one road, whilst the enemy slept next door. Kalashnikovs were useful. Here we are fighting in open fields, we need bigger weapons and new tactics," said fighter Hazem Abu Zeid, 29.

Life and death

They lack heavy munitions, with Grad rocket launchers being few and far between. The weapons they do have are captured by running incursions into enemy ground. "This is the good weapon!" said Salah Mabrook, spying a rusty antiquated anti-aircraft gun on a green leopard print painted Toyota pickup that they took in battle.

Every Friday forces loyal to Colonel Muammer Gaddafi have launched massive offensives on their position. Friday in mid-June, a day that still sends shivers down their spines, was second bloodiest day for the rebel fighters since the battled moved to the city; over 30 of their comrades were killed, and 150 injured.

A crater of splattered shrapnel marks in the road beside the fighters'. Mattresses marks where one of the rockets exploded. A fighter plucked a piece of shrapnel beside a pillow. "This is the piece of rocket killed our friend Ali Seck. We feel such sorrow for our friends, a lot of them have died beside me, just shot in the head," said Zeid.

Every Thursday, Misurata braces herself for attack. Rebels clean and load their Kalashnikovs, medical staff organise emergency room teams and prepare surgical instrument sets. The elderly and their children scurry to buy provisions so that they won't have to go outdoors on Friday. Housewives cook meals for the rebels on the front lines.

Rebels gathered on the beach, running, and diving into the crashing waves. As the sun sank on the horizon silence fell on the group as they contemplated what tomorrow would bring. "Maybe tomorrow I will be dead," said a young fighter nicknamed 'Ronaldo' for his love of football.

But as members of the Misurata council declared that their fighters could not again suffer such an attack, on the front line rebel youths stand determined to fight.
War stories
I went forward with the young brigade to within 400m of the Gaddafi forces. The brigade provided a barrage of cover fire for their diggers that advanced to push defences further into enemy territory. Bullets flew fast from the thickets where regime soldiers hit.

Back at the 'base' - a sheet hung in the trees for shade - they told war stories. Sitting on pillows, a shisha pipe bubbling in the corner, with mortars whistling overhead, 'Hefta' - named after Libya's famed rebel commander Khalifa Hefta and wearing a t-shirt displaying the words 'Never Walk Alone' - spoke: "And we went forward until we were within twenty metres of the Gaddafi men. We said "drop your weapons and come here." They replied "you are going to die," and opened their guns on us. But we killed so many. They left dragging their dead behind them." The boys cheered.

All the young men were students in English, and engineering, or businessmen before the war changed their lives.

Their youthful passions come through in the slow times of the war. A young man grabbed the spout of the tanker filled with water supplies and unleashed a giant arc of water on the men. They ran and jumped in the spray. Another fighter cycled on a child's bike, his FN rifle clanking by his side.

Zeid's passion, he explained, is metallica music. "I mix war with music. Death metal gives the real part of humanity; most music talks about love, beaches, cars, but this talks about real things, brutality, poverty, the soul." His Iron Maiden T-shirt denoting the slogan 'matters of life and death' made for the perfect war gear.

"I have to stay on the front line, I can't go back to my home and wait for Gaddafi to come and kill my family. We win or we die," added Zaid his face turning somber.

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