Conflict & Justice

"Chaos" in Bani Walid as rebels assault loyalist stronghold


Libyan fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) load new ammunition at an outpost in Wadi Dinar in the area along the frontline with the town of Bani Walid on September 11, 2011.


Joseph Eid

BANI WALID, Libya — The assault on Bani Walid has turned into a chaotic free-for-all with little coordination between revolutionary groups trying to take control of the town, one of the last remaining bastions of Col. Muammar Gaddafi.

“One word — chaos," said Abdel Monem, 28, of Zawiya, on the second day of heavy fighting on the outskirts of the tribal town where loyalists and Gaddafi family members are rumored to be hemmed in.

"There is no organization, there is no commander," he added.

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Three weeks after the rebels took the Libyan capital, Tripoli, fighting continues in Gaddafi's final strongholds of Sirte and Bani Walid, which is home to the large but fractious tribe, the Warfallah.

Rebel leaders of the interim National Transitional Council say they won't consider Libya fully "liberated" until these loyalist centers fall, but negotiations have so far failed between them and Gaddafi's men. Rebels pushed in on Bani Walid overnight Friday, making occasional claims to be near victory in the subsequent days though significant progress was not evident Sunday.

Chaos defined the atmosphere among revolutionary forces, none of whom appeared to be answering to a single command, and there wasn't evidence, according to at least one fighter, that the Warfallah were playing the role needed to turn the tide in Bani Walid toward the rebels.

Monem said 10 revolutionaries died Sunday and 15 were injured, with most being hit from well-concealed or elevated positions. The fighting on Sunday marked a shift from Saturday, when revolutionaries said they had been able to spot loyalist positions.

On Sunday, they went into the fringes of Bani Walid and were bloodied by long distance guns and locals shooting at them from house to house.

“There’s no clear target,” Monem said. “There’s no close snipers. They’re not shooting us with Kalashnikovs. The distance [they’re shooting from] is about a kilometer and a half, maybe two. With my gun [AK-47] I cannot shoot them. I did not fire one shot today because there is no clear target.”

He said some rebels answer was to shoot randomly in the air.

The scene at Washtata clinic, 40 kilometers from the front line, was utter confusion this evening, with at least 10 ambulances streaming in from Bani Walid. GlobalPost could confirm five killed and 10 wounded from hospital volunteers.

The disorganization close to the front was also apparent. Revolutionary groups from Tripoli, Benghazi and Tarhouna said they were taking shifts at the front, but could not name an overall commander of the battle space.

Reporters got as far as the northern gates of Bani Walid, where revolutionaries were massing in the morning and throughout the afternoon, but could not confirm much fighting beyond the sound of rockets and mortars in the distance.

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Monem described civilians in Bani Walid swayed by Gaddafi propaganda that is still being broadcast inside. GlobalPost heard some of the radio announcements. “The rebels want corruption and destruction for all the area,” the broadcast said. “Now is the time for jihad."

“They say we are rats, we are coming to rob you, your houses and rape your woman,” Monem said. “That’s why the people are still scared of us.”

Monem's analysis could spell trouble for revolutionaries racing to the front at all hours under separate commands.

Most have no knowledge of the difficult terrain, and Monem said that it's crucial the Warfallah, who do know the lay of the land, rise up and contribute to the cause.

“I’m from Zawiya, I spent six months fighting in Zawiya,” Monem said. “I know every road in my city. But it’s a different situation now. They have their village, I’m from outside. We need some cooperation from the civilians in the city. We cannot go in there alone. We need a little cooperation and a lot of coordination.”

He said he didn’t see any evidence of the Warfallah revolutionaries rising up, and he said he would go to Tripoli to collect 150 of his men from Zawiya to organize his own assault.

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“Right now it’s suicide," he said. "If you want to go to war, you can bring many men, but without organization, nothing right will happen."

It appears the rebels have been pushed out of Bani Walid and will assault again Monday, but without pinpoint NATO assistance and a rising up of some Warfallah tribes against loyalists inside the town, the casualty toll is likely to increase rapidly in coming days.