Africa

Chaos undermines Libyan forces' advance into Bani Walid

Anti-Gaddafi fighters near Bani Walid, 19 September 2011
Image caption NTC fighters have met fierce resistance in their efforts to take Bani Walid

The Bani Walid front is a chaotic place.

Forces loyal to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), the interim administration, are struggling to make headway against pro-Gaddafi fighters inside the desert town, 140km (87 miles) south-east of Tripoli.

The overriding impression is one of disorganisation among the anti-Gaddafi forces as they try to liberate Bani Walid.

At a checkpoint on the main road, 25km north of the town, the fighters regroup in the compound of a large grain store where they test their heavy weapons.

They are still within range of the Gaddafi forces' long-range artillery and claim that eight shells landed nearby at the weekend, one of them hitting a grain silo.

Typically, the NTC fighters race up and down the main road in manic fashion, tyres screeching on the tarmac, in a gratuitous display of urgency.

In a cloud of dust, one of their "technicals" - civilian pickup trucks with guns mounted on the back - comes out of the grain store at such speed that it spills its load of ammunition and supplies on to the main road.

'Idiots'

There is no sense of a proper military command structure here.

Anas Hudairi, a thoughtful 23-year-old from Calgary in Canada who arrived here in mid-August, blames the chaos on the inexperienced volunteers who fail to follow orders.

"These people are idiots," he says. "They just want to come and do their own thing. They're creating big problems for the other fighters.

"We ask them to cover our backs and [when] we return from the front line, they're not there. They have no battlefield experience, no sense of tactics or strategy. They're not even accustomed to the noise of weapons".

Anas speaks with maturity, but admits he only taught himself how to use a weapon shortly before leaving his adopted home in Canada.

Resting in the shade on another baking hot afternoon, another fighter, Idris, shows us his car which has been pockmarked with shrapnel after an attack inside Bani Walid.

He raises a common theme: Knowing who to trust.

"I think someone gave away our position," he says.

"We don't trust everyone, but we need someone to show us the way with a map of Bani Walid. The town and its population are proving difficult for the NTC forces."

'Wrong approach'

Wearing a bandana, Abdul Majid approaches to underscore the problem with the civilians of Bani Walid.

"They are shooting at us from their houses. We don't need that. We want their co-operation. Families have left, but the men have stayed behind, and every house has a gun," he claims.

His message to the people of Bani Walid is simple. "We are all Libyans, brothers and Muslims. Our goal is to free all of Libya".

Abduladim, an oil engineer from Bani Walid who has come to support the NTC offensive argues that attacking the town from across a valley to the north is the wrong approach.

"We have to go in from the south to avoid climbing the hill. There are snipers spread all around. The fighters have the ability, but there's no proper plan as far as I can see".

The anti-Gaddafi forces began pushing forward from the northern side of Bani Walid last Friday, but have since pulled back again, failing to secure an advantage.

The arrival of five captured pro-Gaddafi prisoners breaks the monotony of another long day at the grain store compound.

Image caption The arrival of five pro-Gaddafi prisoners sparked a frenzy of excitement

The fighters surge forward in a frenzy of excitement, firing their AK-47s in the air and chanting "Allahu Akbar [God is Great]" as the frightened captives are pulled from a vehicle and taken inside a building.

Outside on the road, the arrival of a Tripoli lawyer, Abdulhadi Alazoumi, brings a softer tone to this harsh, unforgiving place.

He has come with a consignment of supplies for the fighters - not guns, but food.

"There are cakes, tins of tuna, and bottles of water.

"People are sacrificing with their blood. This is the least I can do for my country. It is my duty," he says.

Anas Hudairi from Canada thinks that Bani Walid will be the Gaddafi forces' last stand.

"We've not seen this level of tactics and marksmanship from them before," he warns.

"But they have nowhere else to go. After Bani Walid, that's it for Gaddafi."