At the same time as rebels in Libya are voicing increasing anger with NATO after two airstrikes that unintentionally killed some of their forces, troops supporting Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi have reached the gates of Ajdabiya, a strategically important city that has been under the control of the rebels.
Ajdabiya was the westernmost city between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels’ stronghold of Benghazi. Gaddafi’s forces struck Saturday morning with rocket and artillery fire aimed at Adjabiya’s center after which ground troops entered the city. According to the New York Times,
The assault was more determined and organized than the ambushes and exchanges of rocket and artillery fire of recent days. Barrage after barrage of incoming fire thudded and exploded within the city, and loyalist troops advanced behind it. Thick smoke rose and drifted from central Ajdabiya, and by noon doctors were evacuating the city’s hospital as explosions shook the streets.
Many of the rebels fled once again, streaming north up toward Benghazi, the rebel capital, their horns blaring. One rebel fighter shouted at vehicles as they passed: “Qaddafi’s forces are coming! Go! Go! Go!”
But a cadre of lightly armed local residents remained to fight for their homes, stopping the loyalists on Istanbul Street in the city’s center.
“We killed 10 of them,” said Said Halum, who stood in the morgue in the late afternoon over the body of his brother, Abdul Ghadir Halum, who had been shot between the eyes. “Our group split into two groups on Istanbul Street and fought them. The firing was very heavy.”
The main contingent of the rebel force rallied about 10 miles north of Ajdabiya and, by evening, returned to the city and “briefly re-established a degree of control of Ajdabiya’s eastern and central districts.” Around 1.25 p.m., a NATO airstrike struck the city but did not keep Gaddafi’s forces from pressing on.
This video shows Qaddafi’s forces entering Ajdabiya:
As MSNBC notes, the attacks on Adjabiya show how, as the conflict draws on, Gaddafi’s forces have adapted their strategy by using small and mobile units which are “less vulnerable to airstrikes than tanks and other armor and which are transported using civilian vehicles in attempts to foil NATO pilots.”
As the Guardian reports, the rebel forces are increasingly frustrated with what they see as NATO in retreat:
Nato’s failure to use its air power to reverse days of military setbacks for the rebels prompted a collapse in confidence in the West’s intentions among Gaddafi’s foes. Conspiracy theories flew. The West wants a divided Libya so it can control the oil, said some. Turkey, a Nato member, is vetoing air strikes because it supports Gaddafi, said others.
Further, the rebels are angry with their own leadership, a revolutionary council of 31 that functions around a core of 11 people who have been publicly named and who meet regularly in Benghazi. But the council has been largely silent, if not invisible:
The council’s two principal leaders, Mahmoud Jibril and Mustafa Abdul Jalil, are hardly visible. Both men are, in any case, regarded by those dealing directly with them as sincere and well-meaning but lacking in either charisma or authority.
One person working closely with the council’s day-to-day operations was deeply frustrated at the fact that “they don’t understand the need to communicate with the Libyan people.
“They don’t understand that no one knows who they are. These lawyers and doctors in Benghazi who say they are a government, it’s like kids playing dress-up for a lot of them. They don’t understand the need to explain to the people what it is they are doing,” the source said.
Only the leader of the rebels’ armed wing, Abdul Fattah Younis, has seemed to have “any real charisma.” Some, though, have worried at his rise, given that just a few weeks ago, he was Gaddafi’s minister of the interior.
With these recent setbacks, the rebels in Libya are now worried that the uprising may become a civil war or lead to a divided country, which could mean divided families.
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Photo: Map of Libya uprising by Rafy, en:User:Interchange88 [CC0 (creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons