Libyan rebels are ready - but lack ammunition


Rebel officials don’t understand why Nato doesn’t step up air strikes, writes MICHAEL GEORGYin Kabaw, Libya

LIBYAN REBELS surrounding Muammar Gadafy’s last major stronghold in the Western Mountains region are hungry for the kill. There’s just one problem – not enough ammunition.

After weeks of planning, the rebels launched a new offensive in the region, capturing several towns and villages. But the biggest prize, Tiji, remains elusive for a simple reason fighters like Jumaa Muhammad are all too familiar with.

“We could not go any further. We ran out of ammunition,” said Muhammad, who took on soldiers with heavy weapons with only 28 bullets for his AK-47 assault rifle.

“Who knows when more will arrive?” The rebels of Libya’s Western Mountains have plenty of spirit and determination. But frustrations are rising over inadequate supplies, inferior weapons and what they call neglect by the West.

Capturing Tiji would be a major boost for the rebels, who in this part of Libya, at least, appear to have managed to set aside factionalism and ethnic differences to co-ordinate a major assault.

Control of Tiji could give rebels access to a highway that leads to Tripoli. They encircled Tiji days ago but had to put the brakes on the operation when there was little left to fire at government forces, and have since been unable to advance. Muhammad and other fighters unleashed their weapons, then had to retreat to a mountain ridge where they keep a close eye on Tiji from a tiny cement lookout post in Kabaw.

Rebels pass the time cleaning their weapons, or chatting, until fresh ammunition arrives, hoping Gadafy’s men don’t fire more Grad missiles, about 25 of which pound the earth a few feet away every day.

Because they lack experience, rebels often fire off many rounds in all directions during battles, instead of choosing targets carefully, wasting bullets in the process. Ammunition from fellow rebels in the east of Libya comes only about once a month, so they have to improvise to survive.

“It’s taking too long to get ammunition. Units from different villages have to borrow ammunition from each other because there is not enough to go around,” said Tarek Zanbou, a former intelligence officer under Gadafy who joined the rebel movement.

He and other rebel officials don’t understand why Nato doesn’t step up air strikes to help the rebels. “Yesterday hundreds of Gadafy’s men were on a main street in Tiji. We gave them [Nato] the co-ordinates and they didn’t do anything,” he said.

Rebels firmly believe that “God is on our side” in the war against Gadafy. But few believe victory will be possible without the bare essentials, like bullets.

“We just won’t be able to reach Tripoli if this keeps happening,” said rebel Muhammad Ramadan, as he walked past a mangled piece of metal from one of Gadafy’s rockets on the mountain ridge and a wall drawing calling for a free Libya. – (Reuters)