FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail