FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Battle for Ajbabiya

Ajdabiya.

Plumes of black smoke rose over Ajdabiya yesterday as rockets and mortar bombs exploded in this empty town that pro-Qaddafi troops and rebel militiamen have now been fighting each other to control for several weeks.
As the battles continued, Muammar Qaddafi met with African leaders in Tripoli to try to negotiate an end to the conflict. The African Union (AU) planned to press their efforts with the rebels in a separate meeting today. The South African President Jacob Zuma said Colonel Qaddafi had accepted the AU’s “road map” for peace, which calls for an immediate ceasefire, opening channels for humanitarian aid and talks between the rebels and the government.

The continuing fighting is highly confused with each side eyeing with suspicion every approaching pick-up carrying a machine gun in the back to work out in good time if it is friend or foe. Ajdabiya keeps changing hands as small groups of armed men make sporadic forays into the town, once inhabited by 140,000 people, almost all of whom have fled. NATO said its aircraft had destroyed 25 government tanks, 11 on the road to Ajdabiya and 14 on the outskirts of the besieged rebel city of Misrata in western Libya. But around Ajdabiya, the government was using pick-ups, usually Toyotas and Datsuns, making it impossible to distinguish them from the rebels or the civilian population.

The numbers fighting on both sides were small, with perhaps a few hundred on the rebel side yesterday on foot or in vehicles. About 10 miles north of Ajdabiya they were setting up a fall-back line but it consisted only of a few trucks with rocket launchers, a very inaccurate weapon.

Rumors of the imminent approach of the enemy periodically swept through fighters and refugees alike. “Qaddafi’s men have cut the road ahead,” said a frightened-looking man pointing down the road towards Ajdabiya. His story was untrue, but for a worrying period there were no vehicles coming on the opposite side of the road, suggesting that it might be cut further ahead.

Verifiable facts are hard to come by. A NATO strike appears to have destroyed two vehicles and killed six people on the far side of Ajdabiya. The local hospital says 13 people had been killed. Four rebel soldiers were reported to have had their throats cut. An Algerian man, accused of being a mercenary at a rebel checkpoint but quite likely to be a migrant worker, was executed.

Ajdabiya and the area around it are vital because its fall would make the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, 100 miles to the north, more vulnerable to attack. Its loss would push the rebels away from the stretch of coast known as al-Khalij, where the towns of Brega, Ras Lanuf, and as-Sidra, are key to the Libyan oil industry. Defeat at Ajdabiya might also shake international support for the rebels and lead the rebels’ backers to suspect that the end of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime is not as close as they hoped.

Neither side appears to have the numbers to make a break through. Pro-Qaddafi fighters have kept up their morale despite air attacks. They have also ambushed the rebels several times by allowing them to advance down the main road and then attacking out of the desert. In theory it would not be difficult for them to push to Benghazi, an hour-and-a-half’s drive to the north. NATO aircraft would find it difficult to distinguish pro-Qaddafi forces from rebels and civilians. If they got close enough to lob a few rockets into the rebel capital this could start an exodus.

The rebel forces are barely holding their own because of lack of effective political and military leaders, a shortage of training, poor organization, and, despite popular enthusiasm for their cause, sufficient numbers of men at the front. The rebels say they are not getting enough support from NATO air strikes, but it is only NATO aircraft that prevent Colonel Qaddafi retaking Benghazi, though he would need a bigger army to push into the hilly interior of northern Cyrenaica.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

March 21, 2019
Ramzy Baroud
Uniting Fatah, Not Palestinians: The Dubious Role of Mohammed Shtayyeh
Nick Pemberton
Is Kamala Harris The Centrist We Need?
Nick Licata
All Southern States are Not the Same: Mississippi’s Challenge
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Sly Encouragement of Lawless Violence
Cesar Chelala
Public Health Challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean
March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail