Digging in for bloody fight until the very bitter end
Published 03/03/2011 | 05:00
STEPPING gingerly over an anti-personnel mine left on the floor of a weapons bunker, a rebel guard casually points out the anti-tank missiles, piled on top of each other.
It was these bunkers which Libyan pilots attempted to bomb three days ago -- but missed -- when Colonel Gaddafi, embarked on an offensive into rebel-held territory in eastern Libya.
In this abandoned army base, a vast complex in the desert west of Ajdabiya, more than a dozen bunkers are crammed with missiles, grenades, tank shells, mines and much more. In one bunker, the guard gestures to a crate of white cylindrical containers he claims contain radioactive material.
In the hands of a trained army, it would be a formidable arsenal. In the hands of a volunteer army, its usefulness is more debatable.
The ragtag group that guards the base, a mix of civilians and soldiers, is not even sure they have anything to fire the weapons with, blaming looters who broke into the base when the town fell a week-and-a-half ago.
Nevertheless, such concerns have done little to dent their enthusiasm. "This is the front line of the eastern part of Libya," says Ali Mohammed, a guard and one of thousands to defect from Col Gaddafi's army. "We will stay here until we die."
And die they might. In the days that followed the uprising in the east, the Libyan leader has dug in, surrounding himself with die-hard loyalists and elite guards in Tripoli.
Yesterday the regime launched a land and air offensive in the country's east at dawn and briefly captured Brega, before being driven back.
People in Ajdabiya, 40 miles to the east, fear pro-Gaddafi forces will target them next. Hundreds are taking up positions on the road into the city, armed with guns and grenade launchers.
Few Libyans dare entertain the possibility Col Gaddafi will remain in power, but the early momentum that swept across the country appears to be faltering, and some of the protesters admit it could take weeks -- and more bloodshed -- before the leader is eventually ousted.
And experts agree Gaddafi still commands the loyalty of sufficient numbers of troops, among them militias and mercenaries, to inflict massive damage on Libya's population before that happens. ( © Independent News Service)