Sunday 26 February 2017

Rebels struggle to hold their ground as Gaddafi hits back

Adrian Blomfield in Brega, Libya

A rebel fires a rocket at a Libyan air force jet loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi during a battle in the desert near Brega. Photo: Reuters
A rebel fires a rocket at a Libyan air force jet loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi during a battle in the desert near Brega. Photo: Reuters

Heavily outgunned rebels fought a desperate battle to retain control of vital energy supplies yesterday after Col Muammar Gaddafi began a long-expected ground and air assault on eastern Libya.

As the country's leader promised to "fight until the last man and woman", his forces advanced on rebel-held strongholds to the east for the first time since the uprising started a fortnight ago.

Fighter jets attacked the towns of Brega and Ajdabiya, supporting ground forces as they pounded rebel positions with heavy artillery fire.

The rebel leadership, based in Benghazi, appealed for international military intervention, while on sand dunes 150 miles away, scores of untrained, poorly equipped volunteers struggled to hold back the regime's vastly superior forces.

In Brega, an open-top lorry darted forward amid falling shells to bring back the dead. Medical sources later said 18 were killed there.

In Ajdabiya, 50 miles east, inhabitants had armed themselves as best they could. Some had guns but others came with machetes, axes and, in one instance, a barbecue skewer.

"We have come to defend Ajdabiya," said Mohamed Abdrurrazeg, who grew up in Swansea, Wales. "I will just stand here with my people and die with my people."

For over a week, the population of eastern Libya had been waiting for Gaddafi's counter-attack. When it came, it was ferocious. It was Brega that bore the brunt. The Libyan leader's best-trained men launched a surprise attack on its main oilfield and airport, seizing both.

Then reinforcements began to arrive. Pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, sent from Benghazi and Ajdabiya, careered down a coastal road.

As the noise of guns abated slightly in Brega, the sound of a fighter jet filled the air. With a deafening roar, two bombs exploded in the dunes nearby.

Yet, miraculously, Gaddafi's men pulled back. Although there were no injuries and Brega again belonged to the revolution, few believed Gaddafi could be beaten so easily. His forces may be only slightly less inept than the rebels, and their stomach for the fight may be lacking, but their fire power and air force capacity make them a foe that still engenders terror across eastern Libya. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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