Chaos Reigns As Gaddafi Forces Fight Back

The rockets and mortars are relentless, dropping one after the other all around the northern edge of Bani Walid as the revolutionary forces try to advance.   The ambulances are not far behind, screeching back up the road to the north, towards the trauma bays in the small village beyond.  The incoming fire keeps the anti-Gaddafi fighters running and confuses an already chaotic battlefield.  The anti-Gaddafi soldiers launched their latest assault into one of the last of Gaddafi’s strongholds at around 7.30am.

Initially they made ground – advancing toward the centre. Some fighters on the outskirts said they had managed to seize a hotel and market square.  But every step forward is pushed back.

The terrain favours their enemy, and they have had weeks to build up defences and place their best marksmen on the hills overlooking the approaches.  Even as they edge forward into the scattering of hamlets in the valley, they are being outsmarted by Gaddafi’s well-trained soldiers.  One doctor who’s been treating the ever-increasing number of casualties told us the front ranks of the revolutionary fighters are being outflanked by snipers.  As they move in between the houses, they’re finding themselves completely surrounded – left with no way out as the bullets rain down.

The die-hard remnants of the old regime clearly intend to fight to the very end.  They are holding out, undaunted by the repeated Nato air strikes over the last two weeks.

Despite what Nato is calling an “intensive presence” over the area and the targeting of military hardware and positions, they still have an armoury of heavy weaponry which they are using to devastating effect.

At one of the checkpoints on the outskirts, the pressure is too much and an argument breaks out between the rebels.

When they launched their first attack into the city, they were optimistic it would all be over in days.

It’s now dawning on them it will take some time yet before the rebel flag is flying in the centre of Bani Walid.

‘Freedom Fighters’ Pull Back From Bani Walid

Four miles from the outskirts of Bani Walid, the men who are now calling themselves ‘Freedom Fighters’ have pulled back from the town, assaulted by the heavy rockets and artillery fire of the pro-Gaddafi forces.

We have finally been able to get to the front line proper – hindered until now by over-zealous ‘media handling’ by the anti-Gaddafi troops and their leaders.  The media convoy snaked its way south down the single lane tarmac road in whacky racers style.

The scenery is a wide expanse of orange dusty plains interspersed with craggy outcrops – reminiscent of old cowboy films. But it’s not the injuns firing at us – and their weapons are considerably more powerful.

To begin with it looks like we have arrived at a holding area for the fighters who have pulled back over the ridge and are preparing for their next surge forward.

Some of them tell us they are frustrated as they felt they were making progress; but they say the decision to pull back has come from on-high – a joint decision by the National Transitional Council and NATO.

As they wait for their next orders, they pass the time playing loud revolutionary music and firing anti-aircraft and AK47 rounds into the air, accompanied by a healthy dose of ‘Allah u Akbar!’

But it is not long before their shots are answered by incoming rounds whistling past our heads.

Journalists and fighters alike dive for cover as another volley crackles down. By this time the music has stopped and the party atmosphere around some of the anti-Gaddafi forces makes way for bossy orders for us to move out of the area.

Our team hops back in our trusty minibus and we move off down the road. A few hundred metres further on, we stop again only to find we are still in range of the rockets and artillery being fired out of Bani Walid.

So in between hasty camera shots of the crumps and billowing smoke, we move off down the road again.

From our next layby, we watch and listen to the familiar sound of planes circling overhead before loud explosions echo off the stony hills around us.

They have sent in the cavalry and the Allah u Akbars begin all over again.

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.