Africa

Libya crisis: Rebels in race to train recruits

Training ground in Benghazi
Image caption Training sessions in Benghazi are sometimes carried out using outdated equipment

At a military base in Benghazi, rebel leaders are in a desperate race to train new recruits.

They learn how to assemble and dismantle a heavy machine gun. Half an hour on this, then on to another lesson - perhaps the mechanics of firing a mortar shell with accuracy or how to handle an AK47.

This is how Libya's rebel army is being trained.

As one group of young men sits attentively on the floor of the parade ground in Benghazi, an instructor shows them how to arm and fire a mortar shell.

Most of these men have never seen a mortar round before, fired a gun or been anywhere near the front line.

Men like Salam bin Fayed - an engineer by trade who has, against his better judgement, volunteered for the front because he believes in this revolution.

Image caption Salam bin Fayed is nervous about moving to the front line

"I've come here to train, to defend my people. I'm learning how to use a gun," says Salam, distinctly nervous at the thought of going to the front line.

"I've never done this before, in fact I am against all war but you have to fight to defend your home."

I have been covering this conflict now for several weeks - on both sides - and this is the first time the rebel army has begun to resemble anything like a fighting force.

Mustafa al-Sageeze is a successful businessman who left his computer software company to help train and command this makeshift army. He admits that indiscipline and a lack of organisation are real concerns but says the enthusiastic recruits are learning fast.

"We are building and every day we are improving," says Mustafa, who looks every inch the rebel commander with his Che Guevara beard and black uniform.

Lack of experience

He is an optimist, and perhaps he has to be, because this is an uphill struggle.

The rebel army has very few experienced field commanders and, at times, they charge around in pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted on the back like a rag-tag collection of enthusiastic individuals.

Two days ago I saw the body of a young anti-Gadaffi fighter who had managed to shoot himself while trying to un-block his jammed rifle.

Image caption Rebel leaders say they need more weapons and more military training

It was a tragedy for his brothers-in-arms but a clear illustration of how indisciplined the rebel soldiers can be.

There are other, fundamental, problems.

Later I went to see a live firing exercise for the recruits on a heavy calibre machine gun. But the session was repeatedly interrupted because the ageing gun kept jamming.

Over the weekend, rebel leaders in Benghazi made another desperate appeal, not only for the allied air strikes on Gaddafi's tanks and heavy armour to continue, but also for more weapons and military training.

At the training ground, new recruits - students, engineers, and teachers - listen closely and repeat their instructor's directions.

They are orders that may save their lives and prevent Col Gaddafi's better-equipped and better-organised troops advancing on Benghazi.