Tuesday 12 December 2017

Libyan rebels beset by rivalry and low morale

Michael Georgy in Libya

THE rebel seethed as a bulldozer arrived to build a sand bank aimed at protecting fighters in Libya's western mountain region from nearby government forces.

"It's too late. Our leaders are trying to show they care about us but it's too late," said the man, Munir Marah, standing beside what was left of a Grad missile that had killed three of his comrades early yesterday.

"If they had sent the bulldozer earlier, they might have still been alive. (Our leaders) are indecisive and divided. It takes them a long time to do simple things," he said.

The rebels of Libya's western mountains need effective leadership more than ever at a critical juncture in their bid to clear out forces loyal to Gaddafi.

They have surrounded the strategic town of Tiji, his last major stronghold in the plains below the western mountains, but are short on ammunition, weapons and military training.

Rebel military leaders had appeared to overcome factionalism and ethnic differences when they captured several towns and villages.

But those problems are now re-emerging, rebels say, undermining efforts to seize Tiji, which has been encircled for days.

"We really want to attack Gaddafi's men, especially after our three comrades were killed," said rebel Muhammad Sasi, who spent most of yesterday sleeping under his tank. "(But) our leaders don't seem to be able to make decisions."

Rebels say there are hundreds of government forces in Tiji, including in pick-up trucks that drove close to the spot where the three men died in the open desert to conduct a reconnaissance mission after the missiles had been fired.

Divisions

The rebels, for their part, have been geared up to fight, getting their AK-47 assault rifles ready for battle, and yelling "Allah Akbar" (God is Greatest) to give themselves courage.

But they are losing patience, sitting idle in the cruel heat, wondering when their leaders will order the charge to Tiji down a single paved road and sand lanes with little or no cover.

Fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has also made the men more irritable.

A rebel named Omar, a Libyan living in Europe who returned home to fight, is so fed up that he is close to quitting.

"This is a joke," he said. "It feels like every man for himself. The military leaders are arguing among themselves.

"When a commander from one village or town wants weapons from another, he doesn't always get it because of rivalries and divisions. This is Libya. This is how it works."

Capturing Tiji would give the rebels access to a highway that leads to the capital Tripoli. But given the chaos in the rebel camp, it's hard to imagine that will happen any time soon.

"The men are getting so anxious they are talking about just mobilising on their own. They are sick and tired of this," said Izzidine Shalbak, a 40-year-old rebel.

Irish Independent

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