Gaddafi forces put schoolboy conscripts on the frontline
ColonEl Muammar Gaddafi is using schoolboy conscripts as young as 15 in his battle to regain the besieged town of Misurata, according to young government troops captured by rebels.
The teenagers were told they were going on training exercises until they reached the front lines, when they were given rifles and told by officers they would be shot if they retreated or deserted.
Two badly wounded teenage fighters said they were told Misurata had been overrun by drug addicts, Islamic militants and Egyptian invaders. One said his own side had opened fire on his teenage detachment when they later fled from the rebels.
In the past week, the conscripts had been thrust into fighting along the strategic "heavy road" connecting the commercial port at Ghasr Ahmad with the Benghazi to Tripoli highway 10 miles away.
A handful of fishing boats reaching the port from Benghazi are the rebels' only link with revolutionaries in the east and Gaddafi's forces are trying to cut the port off from central Misurata.
Umran, a 17-year-old from near Tripoli, said he spent two years at a military school, only to leave and work in a shop in November.
He was recalled to barracks "for more training" as soon as the Feb 17 uprising began and was kept for 40 days without access to the radio or TV.
"I was given a rifle and we were told we were going to shoot targets on an exercise," he said. "Then we found ourselves in Misurata."
"We were told we had to cleanse Misurata. There were invaders from Egypt and we were told we had to fight against them.
"We said we didn't want any part in it and requested to leave. They refused and some tried to run off and officers fired on them."
Those who stayed were reassured that 500 reinforcements were on their way, though these never arrived.
The conscripts were living in abandoned houses near the road when Umran and four comrades tried to escape.
They were caught and their commander, who he named as Shahatar Zbaidi, forced them into the lead 4x4 vehicle for the next assault on well-defended rebel positions along the heavy road.
Umran was hit by fire from an anti-aircraft gun as soon as the assault began and woke in a rebel hospital, where one leg had been amputated and a shattered arm had been reset.
Abdul Rahman Absalem (19), treated in another hospital for bullet wounds, said he had been training as an electrician at a military school when he and his classmates were rounded up and kept under guard at a camp near Sirte, which is Gadaffi's birthplace.
He and 15 others were hurled into fighting along the heavy road.
"When we were fired upon, we ran back. The officer had run first and we followed him back," he said. "I was running towards our side when our own lines started to open fire on us because we were retreating. I don't know who hit me." (© Daily Telegraph, London)