Libya: Is Nato-rebel alliance turning sour?

Libyan children with rifles (archive shot) The rebels accuse pro-Gaddafi forces of hiding weapons in schools

There's a joke going around the frontlines here in Misrata - one borne of growing frustration with Nato.

When the rebels see jets overhead failing to attack any of the rocket launchers pounding their positions they shrug and say: "It must be Canada's turn this week."

I'm sure the Canadians don't deserve to be the brunt of such dark humour, but the sense of disappointment with Nato's military performance around this besieged city is palpable.

"I feel upset… I'm not satisfied," says Fathi Bashaga, when I ask him to sum up his attitude to Nato.

Mr Bashaga, a senior military official here and the man who acts as coordinator between the rebels and Nato, says he speaks constantly by satellite phone to "a man" from the western security alliance who is based in Benghazi, the rebel headquarters.

"Nato decisions are very slow and very complicated. Nato send aircraft for reconnaissance, they take a picture, they take time to analyse the picture, then take time to take the decision to send the fighter to attack the target. Then the target moved.

"Gaddafi forces now learn Nato [are] forbidden to attack schools and mosques so they hide their tanks and rockets near them. Also, Nato only striking at night-time for two or three hours. Apaches also attacking in night-time. Not one of our fighters saw Apaches until now," Mr Bashaga says.

Rebel rivalry

I asked him if he complained to Nato.

"Yes, we complain and tell them," he says.

And Nato's reply? "They listen to us, but they are not saying anything."

A Canadian fighter jet (archive shot) The Canadian air force is the butt of jokes in rebel circles in Libya

Is it fair criticism? Or is this simply the coming-down-to-earth frustration of a rebel movement that managed, against the odds, to win control of its own city in close-combat fighting, but now finds itself struggling on open ground without the necessary equipment and against a far better armed enemy?

The rebels are trying to advance, on various fronts, towards Zliten - a town some 50km (31 miles) to the west of Misrata. But it is complicated.

"It's pride mostly," says Lameen Mustapha Ashwedi, who commands one of the battalions on the western front.

Anti-Gaddafi forces in Zliten have made it clear they don't want to be "liberated" by their neighbours from Misrata.

"They want to do something by themselves for their city, so that they can say in the future that they liberated their own city. It's about history for them," explains Mr Ashwedi.

His forces are still pushing forward and trying to outflank Col Gaddafi's forces around Zliten. But he reckons it could be several weeks before the town falls.

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    The `warrant` for Gaddafî shows that the ICC has no more credibility and there is no international law. The UK/USA can illegaly invade Iraq with impunity. They can illegally kill the citizens of Libya and force a change of government against the majorty`s wishes. The world is ruled by tyrants who want to impose the UK-US society values on the rest of the world. Ignorance, violence & drugs for all

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    This is such a mad, bad, and sad situation which UK, France, the US & rest of NATO, have now caused. If NATO put as much effort into peaceful negotiations as they do into dividing up a country and bombing one group of people and helping the other group to do what the other side was accused of doing (but with the might of the US, UK & France airforce) then less civilains would have been killed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Why does the BBC call the armed civilians (and ex military) in Libya rebels and not insurgents?
    And also why does the BBC refer to armed civilians (and ex military) in Iraq and Afghanistan as insurgents and not rebels?
    Is it because the latter two groups are fighting us so are bad insurgents and the former group are on our side so are good rebels?
    We wouldnt want any confusion now would we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    i dont know...i dont like NATO and i hate gidaffi too..both have criminal history..NATO should stay out of this..if someones gonna intervene it should be the arab nations and the african countries

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The BBC should find its backbone and fulfill its mandate as a NEWS agency - not a propaganda mouthpiece for UK Govt unofficial policy. Its been a long time since I'v read a balanced news report on the BBC, FOX, CNN etc. None of them tell the truth but treat us like ignorant fools. We need the truth not propaganda !. Its an absolute disgrace the way the populace is treated.


Comments 5 of 118



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