Fighters In Football Shirts Ready For Battle

Until two weeks ago, the big stone building on the outskirts of Misratah was a bustling market place.

Now its corridors are empty, the counters covered in official documents and anti-aircraft shells lie on the floor.

The storerooms have been turned into a makeshift headquarters as the anti-Gaddafi forces have moved their operations hub closer to their next target – the Colonel Gaddafi strongholds of Bani Walid and Sirte.

It is from here that the regional commander Ali Bashir coordinates troop movements over the radio. He told us they are ready and that he expected the operation to be launched in the next few days.

The former army colonel was once hand-picked to travel to Tunisia on a visit with Col Gaddafi.

He said that when he saw that his leader was prepared to use foreign fighters to kill fellow Libyans he gave up his rank, pay and status and moved back to Misratah in disgust.

“I chose my way. I chose my family. I am now working for my village,” he said.

Less than a hundred kilometres south of here is Bani Walid – the cluster of villages in which Col Gaddafi is thought to be hiding.

The Misratah Brigade – instrumental in the fall of Col Gaddafi’s Bab al Aziziyah Palace in Tripoli – have regrouped near their home town and set up camp in the desert.

Ali Bashir showed us around the pick-up trucks loaded with guns while sentries kept watch from the high ground overlooking the road south. They said they were ready to advance up the road when they receive word.

As we head back to his headquarters, Ali Bashir says he wishes this could have happened sooner.

He said that it is too late for him but that at least he would be leaving a new Libya for generations to come.

He has inspired many from the next generation to join him on the front line.

Wearing AC Milan t-shirts and manning the machine guns, the young men patrol out into no-man’s land and scour the countryside for advancing pro-Gaddafi forces.

Muad Taher, a 22-year-old student from Misratah, said he picked up a weapon as soon as Col Gaddafi’s forces descended on the tow.

“We had to defend ourselves, it was our duty,” he said.

“We had to protect our own. Gaddafi’s forces have done damage, they steal and kill.”

Looking out across the flat stretch of land between the camp and Bani Walid, he admitted they do not expect it to be easy:

“It would be nice if it was like Tripoli, we do not like bloodshed – these are our brothers and sisters,” he said.

But he and his fellow fighers said thoughts of violence would not put them off their ultimate aim.

Sami, 21, was shot by a sniper during the fall of Bab al Aziziyah, but – arm in a sling – he has taken up his position alongside his friends.

They have all volunteered to join the rebel movement and believe they will not really be free until they catch Col Gaddafi.

If he is holed up just a few kilometres away in Bani Walid, they may soon get their wish.

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