Conflict & Justice

Libyan rebels get organized


A rebel fighter in Libya wears a crown of bullets on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, where a battle continues to rage between opposition forces and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.


James Foley

Back in March, the Libyan rebels thought that the air strikes by NATO would be the answer to their prayers. The ragtag band of volunteers, most of them very young and most with no experience let alone weapons, thought that while NATO blasted Muammar Gaddafi's heavy artillery and tanks from above, they would easily be able to race their pick-up trucks from city to city all the way to Tripoli.

They were wrong.

The rebels quickly found themselves fighting on several fronts and, lacking any kind of working command structure or coordination, they were being defeated as quickly as they were doing the defeating. Holding on to a city like Brega or Misurata proved difficult, and deadly, even with international help.

But now, they say, things are different. Over the last few months, as the stalemate and fighting dragged out, they began to learn, adjust and adapt and — perhaps most importantly — recruit and train their ranks to fight a more strategic fight.

According to New York Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick, who is back in Tripoli after a much-deserved respite, the rebels are "emboldened" by improvements to their military communications and are now coordinating attacks on three fronts in order to stretch the capabilities of loyalist forces.

The rebels told Kirkpatrick that they launched new attacks in the East from Benghazi toward the oil port of Brega, on the central coast from Misurata toward the pivotal barracks town of Zlitan and from their newest stronghold in the Nafusa Mountains into the town of Zawiya, which is on the doorstep of the capital.

“The strategy is to stretch [Gaddafi's] resources and hopefully draw them from Tripoli,” a rebel spokesman in Misurata told the New York Times.