Army of grocers and teachers forces Gaddafi's men to flee
IT WAS an advance every bit as rapid and chaotic as the retreat two weeks earlier.
Crammed into pick-ups, cars and buses, Libya's army of teachers, grocers and students raced westwards yesterday in a helter-skelter advance toward Col Muammar Gaddafi's heartland.
They retook Brega, Uqayla, Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad -- oil towns out of which they had been driven under intense artillery bombardment -- without having to fight a battle. Government forces simply turned tail and fled.
By the end of the day, the rebels were in striking distance of Sirte, Gaddafi's home town and power base, and 330 miles from Tripoli.
Ali Saeed Ali (27), who ran a grocery shop before joining the uprising, waved his grenade launcher above his head at the entrance to Ras Lanuf in jubilation. "We are coming to get you, Gaddafi. We won't stop until Tripoli," he said.
The secrets of the rebels' success lie all along the coast road from their base in Benghazi. Tanks and self-propelled artillery guns were still smoking on the outskirts of Ajdabiya where they had been pounded by RAF Tornado jets, breaking the deadlock between forces loyal to Gaddafi and the lightly armed and poorly trained rebel fighters.
With the armour destroyed, rebel fighters were able to recapture Ajdabiya early on Saturday before heading west as air strikes cleared their path.
Barely a week since a pro-Gaddafi armoured column entered the streets of Benghazi, the rebels have been able to push forward without encountering resistance.
Ali Misrati (32), who had been a sergeant in Gaddafi's army before defecting in the early days of the revolution, said the rebels had been able to sweep unopposed into Ras Lanuf on Saturday night.
"They fired rockets but that was just to give them time to run away. They left behind mercenaries, and destroyed their vehicles so they couldn't escape," he said.
Everyone now expects the rebels to continue their westward push. But their revolutionary zeal can propel them only so far.
Nofilia, 60 miles from Sirte, was a place for the rebels to regroup last night and wait for coalition air strikes to clear their path.
"Tonight, we're going to find them and fight them. They can't beat us now their big weapons are gone," said a fighter on the frontline, Yusuf Ahmad (22).
But somewhere along the road to Sirte lies the difference between defence and attack, and the point at which the rebels will find that the air strikes run out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)