Libyan volunteers eager to fight Gadhafi

Libyan volunteers eager to fight Gadhafi

Credit: AP

ALTERNATIVE CROP OF EFX105 - A man holds a caricature of Libya�s leader Moammar Gadhafi during a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy in Managua, Nicaragua, Monday Feb 28, 2011. International pressure on Gadhafi to end a crackdown on opponents escalated Monday as his loyalists fought rebels holding the two cities closest to the capital and his warplanes bombed an ammunition depot in the east. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Print
Email
|

by Paul Schemm

The Associated Press

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 12:24 AM

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) -- More than 100 Libyan men stood at attention, marched in place and chanted "God is great" before a squad of trainers in Benghazi, the epicenter of the opposition-controlled eastern half of Libya.

The trainers gave them patriotic speeches before putting them to work cleaning machine gun parts.

Even while the rebel army tries to bind together its disparate parts to face off against the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, it has to deal with an influx of eager volunteers filled with enthusiasm for a march to Tripoli, but short on real military experience.

Already, bands of Libyans have picked up weapons and headed west to help rebels in Tripoli and the nearby embattled city of Masrata, although many have run afoul of pro-Gadhafi forces along the 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) journey, especially in his hometown of Sirte.

Training sessions for the volunteers have been set up around Benghazi, but the zeal of the new recruits is being tempered by the caution of the officers -- and the need to clean up some rusty weapons and equipment.

"All the Libyan people are volunteers and want to do anything to get military training," said Col. Mohammed Rifai, a fighter pilot at the military air base, which has also taken on its share of volunteers. He just shook his head about reports of bands of fighters heading off on their own.

"We don't approve. Coordination is the best thing -- but it is a revolution of the people," he said with a shrug.

So far, the rebel army is just getting organized, with an announcement Tuesday that the Libyan Military Council has been formed to coordinate among the disparate units scattered across the east.

Benghazi, however, is still gripped by a revolutionary fervor less than two weeks since the rout of Gadhafi's forces and freeing of the east from his control.

Volunteers are still directing traffic and manning checkpoints into the early hours of the morning to make up for the continuing absence of police and traffic cops and cars still drive around waving the newly adopted flag of the old monarchy.

The most fervent are flocking to recruitment centers to sign up as volunteer fighters and already some 5,000 have registered in Benghazi and hundreds elsewhere in the east, according to authorities, despite word that some volunteers have been killed trying to join the fighting in the west.

"I would prefer to go immediately," said Mohammed Shebeik, 38, as he waited in line in a converted school yard to sign his name, while patriotic songs blared over a loudspeaker. "I hear at least 20 people died in Sirte, but we are not afraid. All of Libya is one hand."

He added that like most Libyans, he learned a bit of weapons training in high school.

Faisal Mohammed, 28, who had already signed his name and sat in the school yard with 100 other recruits waiting for the training to begin, was more blunt.

"If there was a group leaving (to go fight), I would go," he said.

Next to the training area, Col. Saleh Ashur supervised soldiers and a number of volunteers polishing the rust off the barrels of anti-aircraft guns and greasing up the individual parts.

"Speaking as an officer in the army, I say they have to be organized to attack not just to go out on your own," he said, with the weariness of age and experience in the face of all that enthusiasm.

He noted the irony that Gadhafi had ordered weapons training for all high school students, and "now the training is being turned against Gadhafi," but he said once their five-day refresher course was complete, the volunteers would be asked to go home and wait for a call.

At the school, trainer Ahmed Jibreel ordered his recruits to stand up, march in place, turn left, turn right and shout "God is great," while behind him others patiently scrubbed away at another filthy anti-aircraft gun.

"We are getting the guns ready in order to fight, and the guns need to be kept clean for battle," he said, when asked why the recruits seemed to be largely reserved for cleaning duties.

"Eventually we will use live ammunition in the training," said Jibril, who declined to give his rank saying that in the new Libyan army, there were no ranks. "We are here not to show off but to create fighters to win the battle."

The rebel army says there are plenty of weapons with which to arm these new recruits, although by most estimates the military lacks up-to-date equipment, heavy weapons and large supplies of ammunition. All the soldiers were wearing different kinds of uniforms and camouflage, including a fair amount of U.S. Army surplus.

"Uniforms aren't important," Jibril said. "What's important is the determination which makes the impossible, possible. Gadhafi is a paper tiger."

Paper tiger or not, Libya's rebel military is remaining cautious, even as battles rage across the country's west as Gadhafi tries to retake fallen towns.

"We are waiting for the revolution in Tripoli to do something before we move," said Ashur.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Print
Email
|