FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Battle for Ajbabiya

by PATRICK COCKBURN

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.

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail