Monday, August 22, 2011

Friday - Mountain Freedom Fighters 1911 - 2011

In October 1911 the Italian fleet invaded Libya and the Libyans resisted the invaders with whatever little weapons they could get. The Italians first concentrated their attack on the coastal cities, Tripoli, Benghazi, Misurata and Derna. Major battles were fought in Al-Hani near Tripoli (October 23, 1911) , Ar-Rmaila near Misurata, Al-Fwaihat near Benghazi (March 1912) and Wadi Ash-Shwaer near Derna. Other battles took place on the coast and in other cities, villages, mountains and desert. One of the major battles was Al-Gherthabiya near Sirt (April 1915) where the Italians lost thousands of their soldiers.

Although the Italians succeeded in controlling most of Libya after years of resistance and struggle (Jihad), they could not control the whole country because the Libyan fighters (Mojahideen) left their homes and headed for the mountains where they planned their attacks against the Italian armies.

Outside the camps, in the mountains, the Mojahideen continued to fight the Italian occupation, but by the year 1931 the Mojahideen were out of food, out of information and out of ammunitions. The leader of the Mojahideen, Omar Al-Mukhtar, was ill couple of times and many of his comrades asked him to retire and leave the country. He was 80 years old. But he refused and kept fighting and he deserved a name given to him as "The Lion of the Desert."

On September 16, 1931 the Italians hanged Omar Al-Mukhtar in the city of Solouq and they forced the Libyans to watch their hero being hanged. No consideration to Omar Al-Mukhtar's old age, no consideration to international law and no consideration to world war treaties. But, remember that the Italians caused the death of half of Libya's population and killing Omar Al-Mukhtar to the Italians was ending the Libyan resistance which to them means finally taking control of the country after 20 years of struggle.

Libya was under the Italian occupation till 1943 when Italy was defeated in World War II and Libya came under the Allies armies occupation till December 24, 1951 when Libya achieved its independence after years and years of occupation.

Libyan rebels say new push toward Tripoli planned
Associated Press
2011-08-05 01:02 AM

Rebel fighters in western Libya are regrouping for a major offensive and hope to reach Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold, the capital of Tripoli, before the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in late August, a field commander said Thursday.

The rebels in Libya's western Nafusa mountain area are receiving reinforcements, including volunteers arriving from areas still under Gadhafi's control, the commander, Muktar al-Akhdar, told The Associated Press. He spoke after an hours-long strategy meeting of unit commanders in the garrison town of Zintan, base of the area's rebel command.

With fighting largely deadlocked for months, Libya's rebels believe the Nafusa mountain front line is their best chance for striking the capital. But obstacles like land mines spotted in front line areas and gasoline shortages have impeded progress, al-Akhdar said.

There is also the worry that Gadhafi loyalists could infiltrate the ranks, he said.

At times, shouting could be heard from the meeting room. The rebel's military spokesman for the mountain area, Col. Jumma Ibrahim, was evasive when asked about a new push toward Tripoli, saying he was pleased with small territorial gains.

Libya's civil war erupted shortly after anti-regime protests swept across Libya in mid-February, and neither side has made significant gains for months. Gadhafi controls Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast and towns around it, while rebels hold the east of the country and two pockets in the west _ the Nafusa mountain range and the port city of Misrata.

A week ago, the Nafusa rebels launched a limited offensive, descending from their mountain plateau into the coastal plain and seizing three small towns. However, the advance has since stalled, with Gadhafi's forces entrenched in several towns blocking the way to Tripoli. One of the flash points of fighting has been the town of Tiji, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from the capital along a major highway, where Gadhafi's forces have been entrenched for the past week.

"We are trying to regroup and reorganize our troops in preparation for a major offensive, to march forward toward the cost, toward Tripoli and Zawiya and other areas along the coast," said al-Akhdar.

"Our preparations for the offensive are getting there," he said. "We are receiving fighters from other areas that are not liberated yet. We are training them. We are preparing them for fighting."

"We are trying to be well-prepared and hopefully, we finish this war before the end of Ramadan," said the commander, whose unit is based in Zintan. The fasting month began on Monday, and lasts either 29 or 30 days.

Rebel spokesmen in the Nafusa area declined to say how many fighters are preparing for the next offensive. Ibrahim, the military spokesman, said there are more than 3,000 fighters from Zintan alone. Another town, Nalut, has sent more than 2,000 men to the front lines. A unit made up of volunteers from Tripoli includes about 500 fighters.

Ibrahim said the influx of volunteers from Gadhafi-controlled areas raised some concerns about the infiltration of spies.

Such fears assumed greater urgency after the rebels' military chief, Abdel Fattah Younes, was killed a week ago. It remains unclear whether Younes was shot dead by pro-Gadhafi infiltrators, as Libya's opposition insists, or was possibly targeted in an internal rift.

Ibrahim said the newcomers are being scrutinized more carefully and assigned to units with others from their home towns, in hopes that this will weed out spies. "If they are from (the area of) Gadhafi, there will be more attention," said Ibrahim, a former pilot in the Libyan air force who defected a few days after the start of the uprising.

Ibrahim said Gadhafi's forces are far better equipped than the rebels, who he said largely fight with what they seize from government troops. He suggested the rebels even lack some basics like sufficient water and fuel.

Rebel Commander Fights for Freedom

By William Booth
Washington Post PM

ZINTAN, Libya — In the surreal, dystopic Libya of the manic ruler Moammar Gaddafi, the uprising that has shaken the Arab world produced not one, but two distinct revolutions.
One was a rebellion waged by words, by urban youth, on Facebook and the streets, an uprising of transitional councils and tweets, fought in the rebel capital of Benghazi by bureaucrats who promise a democratic Libya.

The other rebellion was more simple but not more pure: the armed insurrection of the past six months, fought in olive groves and ghost towns and propelled forward by fierce, pious, lethal hillbillies like Muktar al-Akhdar, a commander from the western mountains whose rugged militiamen burst into Tripoli over the weekend and appear on the verge of toppling Gaddafi.

“We knew from the start that our revolution would cost lives. We weren’t scared, but we knew. We knew we could not fight tanks with flowers,” Akhdar said a few days before the rebels’ final push toward Tripoli. Protest would not bring change. That was the thinking of outsiders, of Americans and Europeans and expatriates, he said. “Not in Libya. Not with Gaddafi. We have been together for 42 years. No flowers.”

What moves men such as Muktar al-Akhdar, and what he expects of his revolution, may shape the new Libya as much as the negotiators now writing first drafts of a constitution. Akhdar matters because he has suffered, he has dreams — and he is heavily armed.

Akhdar is believed to be alive and in Tripoli. The last time reporters saw him was 10 days ago. More recently, people who know him said by e-mail that Akhdar was in the capital with his men.

Most of the rebel fighters pouring into Tripoli carry battered AK-47s, the ubiquitous kalashnikov with varnished wooden stocks. But on the plains south of Tripoli, Muktar al-Akhdar cradled a vicious, short-barreled FN assault rifle, a weapon favored by Gaddafi’s special forces.

Where did he get such a gun? He drew a slow thumb across his throat. “Dead,” Akhdar answered, the government soldier who carried this weapon was killed by rebels. “The others ran away.” He slapped the metal hard. “This one did not.”

The 54-year-old commander and father of six, who looks made of wire and leather, did not smile at the memory of Libyans fighting Libyans. Capable of a few words in English, he called his fallen enemy “a good boy, very brave.”

Then he held up his hands, like they are strangers, and said, “Blood.”
There is blood on his hands.

A town of martyrs

Akhdar’s rolling command center is his pickup truck, camouflaged with smeared mud and hung with goatskins of water. The bed is pocked by jagged bullet holes. Someone has left a grenade to bounce around on the front seat.

Locals swear that forces loyal to Gaddafi fired 3,000 Grad rockets in and around Zintan, still scattered with burnt husks of Russian- and Chinese-made tanks, destroyed by guided NATO missiles and homemade gasoline bombs. Of all the towns of the Nafusa mountains, the Zintanis, known for their grit, arrogance and wit, produced the most martyrs. More than 125 of their portraits hang in the town square.

Akhdar was one of the first to pick up a gun.

For 25 years, Akhdar served as a low-ranking officer in the Libyan army, until his discharge in 1998. He taught light-arms tactics, how to fire mortars, the importance of high ground. He never ventured far from Libya — except in the desert frontiers of Algeria, Tunisia and Chad. But he has learned his history, he said, from watching satellite TV.

He fought in Chad, a decade-long border conflict, a gory, seesaw of ambush and retreat waged in oases and wadis in the south, where the Libyan army broke down and never really recovered. The ghosts of that war — a kind of Vietnam for Libya — hover over the revolution of 2011 more than most outsiders understand.

Akhdar says he watched in bitter silence as Gaddafi degraded his army, always wary of rivals in the ranks. “They told us to fight. We fought. But Gaddafi had no respect for us, no decent salaries, just war without reason, on and on, doing his terrorism,” said Akhdar. More than 7,500 Libyan soldiers died, a tenth of the men under arms at the time.

Akhdar says he meet Gaddafi once, in 1975, at a checkpoint at Zawiyah, when he was on guard duty. He admired the daring young Libyan army colonel who overthrew King Idris in a 1969 military coup. Young Akhdar believed in the revolution. “In the beginning, Gaddafi came in peace, but he is like all dictators. Now his heart is dry, and he loves only power.”

As the revolt against Gaddafi intensified, he often referred to revolutionists as extremist Muslims or al-Qaeda terrorists or, simply, rats. “But he is our rat,” Akhdar said. “He never in his life imagined that he would be hiding in a hole in Tripoli. But we know rats. We will hunt him in his hole and we will kill him, like a rat.”

Sensing weakness

After his discharge from the army, Akhdar worked as a guide steering Italian and French adventurers in weeks-long, four-wheel-drive treks across the great sand seas south of Zintan. He hungers for the desert constantly and believes it taught him lessons in devotion, humility, endurance.

Akhdar was chosen by the consent of his men to command the Zintan Martyr Militia, a group of 300 or 400, depending on what day you ask, with about 60 hard-core fighters who leap to the front lines at Akhdar’s quiet order.

His brigade is headquartered in an abandoned school. “Look what we’ve done to it!” Akhdar said in shame. “This was a place for scholars.” Now the place smells of men and war: a stink from dirty toilets, gun oil, burning trash, unwashed feet.

Akhdar said he threw himself into the revolution because had no choice. When Libyan citizens protested, they were shot. Among the macho tribes of the mountains, this was Gaddafi’s greatest blunder. Gaddafi sparked the revolution. “His people offered the tribes money to go back home, and when we did not, they came with tanks and we defended ourselves, and as we began to fight, we saw they were not strong. They were weak! So we began to kill them and they ran.”

For weeks this summer, the rebel advance was stalled at a forgettable village called Qawlish. It sits on a hilltop, abandoned, overlooking a deep canyon and in the distance, what was the Gaddafi-held town of Asabah.

Qawlish was taken, lost, retaken. One afternoon, a group of unarmed people from Asabah appeared in cars and vans, waving green flags.

Then came an ambush, as Gaddafi troops leapt out of other cars and swarmed over the hills. Akhdar’s men unleashed a terrifying, headlong firefight against Gaddafi loyalists, reduced now to mixed units of regular army, conscripted cannon fodder and paid fighters from Mali and Niger.

It was over in less than 30 minutes. The Gaddafi troops pulled back, taking several dead soldiers with them. The rebels counted four wounded. “We are sons of the desert, we don’t get tricked like this,” Akhdar said later. “If Gaddafi has three thoughts, we have 10.”

Akhdar predicted that Tripoli would fall before end of the holy month of Ramadan, by the last day in August. He appears to have been correct.

In the evenings, Akhdar breaks his day-long fast at a house at the edge of his beloved desert. A baby camel is tied with one leg to a utility pole. He will be eaten. A rebel fighter shows off a poisonous snake, a horned viper, that he has gripped in a pair of pliers. It is still alive.

Akhdar lounges and eats raw pistachios. Leaning against the wall are kalashnikovs, RPGs, old Italian rifles. His soldiers have full stomachs, are smoking and dreaming in the dusk. They are also enjoying something new: They are complaining, openly, about the lives they’ve been denied. The men want money; they want to marry; they want sex; they want to travel.

They are watching the new Free Libya satellite channel, which is showing rebel propaganda videos, depicting a grinning Gaddafi, then fast-cutting to images taken from state TV, from 1984 when Brother Leader hanged his opponents in a stadium.

“The longer this war lasts, it is no good,” Akhdar said quietly, as he watched his men. “Wars create criminals. I have studied this.” He has seen it on TV. He names Somalia, Vietnam, Rwanda, Serbia. “We don’t want to be like that.”

Over the course of several interviews — sessions that Akhdar appears to find frivolous or tiresome or both — he is asked what he wants from this revolution. Each time he says the same thing. “I want freedom,” Akhdar said. “Write it down again. Freedom.”

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