Libya: Under fire on Misrata's frontline


Opposition forces call for Nato to step up its campaign in Misrata

I'm peering - rather cautiously - over the top of a giant shipping container that has been dragged into the middle of the four-lane highway leading west from Misrata to the town of Zlitan and then on towards Tripoli.

This is the brand new rebel frontline that has edged forward almost one mile (1.5km) in the past couple of days and now lies just beyond the small farming community of Dafnia.

Beside me, an 18-year-old rebel fighter named Abdul Rahman is peering through binoculars at Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces, who have set up their own barricades now visible just more than half a mile down the road.

Ahead, slightly to the right - and uncomfortably close - we hear the sudden whoosh of rockets being fired almost over our heads. Abdul Rahman scowls.

Rebel fighters pose for a picture at the front line of Dafniya about 25 miles (40km) west of Misrata, Libya Rebel fighters west of Misrata face fire from rocket, artillery and mortar fire.

"When Nato decide to strike they do a good job, but they don't seem to strike very often here," he says.

"That rocket launcher has been pounding us since early this morning. We're sure Nato can see it, but what we can't understand is why they don't take it out for us."

A little earlier we heard the distant roar of Nato jets in the clouds overhead.

Now they are back - just visible below the clouds - and we hear some big explosions somewhere in the orchards and woods ahead.

Fresh pizzas

Start Quote

We see hardly any gunshot wounds now. Nato should do something about these heavy weapons”

End Quote Dr Muad Ben-Sasi

The rebels say that overnight the jets dropped leaflets on Gaddafi's positions, and some drifted over to their side.

I want to find one of the leaflets, but the rebels have just started firing with their heavy machine guns, and there is a strong chance that Gaddafi loyalists will take aim at these positions, as they did a couple of hours ago, with mortars.

We drive back a few miles to a field clinic that has been set up in a building beside the highway.

As we walk in, I spot a pizza oven that's being delivered "to make fresh pizza for us, and for our fighters," as a doctor explains.

I run into some other journalists outside who took pictures of one of the Nato leaflets and said they had initially caused some alarm and confusion among the rebels who thought they might be addressed to them not their enemy.

The leaflets, in Arabic, read: "Nato will use all possible means to destroy all armour used against civilians. Stop fighting. When you see these helicopters, it means it is already too late for you."

The clinic is quiet right now.

Rebel fighters hold up a Nato propaganda leaflet at the frontline of Dafniya about 25 miles (40km) west of Misrata, Libya The leaflets read: "Nato will use all possible means to destroy all armour used against civilians"

On Friday more than 30 dead fighters and almost 200 wounded were brought to the young doctors here. Almost all the victims these days are from rocket, artillery and mortar fire.

"We see hardly any gunshot wounds now. Nato should do something about these heavy weapons," says Dr Muad Ben-Sasi.

But later, Misrata's military spokesman, Fathi Bashagha - who also acts as a liaison with Nato - tells me: "Gaddafi's forces are very clever. They hide their rockets and grads very well. They are hard for Nato to find."

He is just back from Misrata's port, which has been hit repeatedly in the past 24 hours by rockets fired from "at least 40km away".

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Is it at all possible that, instead of being withdrawn to Tripoli (as was reported elsewhere on the site) Gaddafi's strongest units are on the front line, using the US Congressional lawsuit against Mr Obama and internal NATO dissent to gain time and crush the rebels?
    1. Tripoli's repeated claims of 'secret talks' with the rebels excluding NATO
    2.Gaddafi's newest audio - show no little desperation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    no big rebel advances near misrata, aritra. my sense is that the rebels are struggling to adapt to fighting in the open countryside, following their dramatic successes in urban warfare here. urban warfare, from my experiences in grozny and elsewhere, has a lot to do with sheer courage and determination. in the countryside, it's about hardware.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Mr Harding, you have spent some time beside the rebel fighters
    What we've seen is that the lull in rebel advances that resulted in stalemate for some time has been replaced by advances. Do you see any indications that the rebels used the temporary lull to improve on training and logistics (as far as practicable) or are they just as vulnerable to Gaddafi's soldier's as they were at first?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Andrew, saw this coming about rivalties with tribes when this all started, it will get worse in other towns where rebels have no influence,thats why they want Gaddafhi gone before any ceasefire,so that support will ebb away,but its not going to happen I believe.Rebels have to accept that not all Libyans support their cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Andrew, - I hope you be safe on that frontline. Are you watching BBC there? According to Ilyumzhinov, people in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya watch BBC coverage with surprise and disbelief. Just now beautiful Lady on BBC news has denied civilian casualties in Tripoli from NATO bombing, on NATO's behalf. But people there - they can see all that firsthand. So much for BBC's credibility there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Nato should go home, not to continue attacks to innocent people in Libya.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    been talking to more rebel commanders here today. growing frustration with nato, and also rivalries with neighbouring towns. will blog shortly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    He was telling the truth yet got hauled over the coals for speaking out, who do I believe more an Admiral with years experience or an Eton politician ?,no contest really.Just shows what a cover-up is going on about facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Andrew, so is NATO going to let the rebels advance to Tripoli on population centres then ?,surely thats just as bad as what gaddafhi's forces did when they were bombed will NATO bomb the rebels?,to stop them as regime forces will be defending not attacking.Ask them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    UK split reinforces warnings NATO military alliance has become split on how to proceed. The war is into 4th month. Sir Mark Stanhope (Navy) warned govt would have to make some "challenging decisions" if the mission was to last beyond 6 months. Liam Fox, Defence Secretary, has guaranteed forces would So why is US resupplying Tomahawk missiles used by submarines?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    US will not support cause financially.
    And now do we see splits in UK support?
    Apparently the Head of the Navy, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope is concerned about UK's inability to sustain its military presence in this so-called war while General Sir David Richards, Head Armed Forces seems confident UK can remain stick it out.
    But is all of this at a cost that the UK can afford to pay?



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