Military Advisers To Assist Libyan Rebels
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
I'm Michele Norris.
And we turn now to news from Libya. In a moment, we'll hear about the death today of two photojournalists in the city of Misrata. Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros died there.
But first, France and Italy announced today that they will join Britain in sending military advisers to eastern Libya to assist anti-government rebels. According to European officials, the advisers will assist the ad hoc rebel army in protecting civilians rather than engaging in combat.
As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Benghazi, the foreign advisers will find a rebel force in urgent need of just about everything, except courage and motivation.
PETER KENYON: In a storage and maintenance facility north of Benghazi, a s�ance of sorts is going on, as vintage Russian tanks thought to be long dead are summoned back to life in a cloud of blue smoke and the tired creak of rusty treads.
(Soundbite of military tank)
KENYON: It's a Russian-made T-55 tank from the mid-1950s, patched together with parts cannibalized from other tanks in even worse condition. In a scene straight out of a Buster Keaton movie, another tank rounds a corner and roars past a group of reporters at speed, only to crash headlong into the side of a warehouse.
Brigadier General Mansour Abu Hajar says most of these tanks haven't been used since Libya's invasion of neighboring Chad, which ended in 1987. He's doing everything he can to revive them, but he shakes his head at the sheer improbability of it all.
Brigadier General MANSOUR ABU HAJAR (Chief, Armored Vehicles and Infantry Division, Benghazi): (Foreign language spoken)
KENYON: Most of these tanks are obsolete, he says. They were retired from combat after Chad. They're basically expired.
This is one scene that will greet British, French and Italian military advisers dispatched to Benghazi in the latest show of support for those seeking the end of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's 42 years in power. British and French officials have made it clear that while some of the military experts have combat experience, their mission will not include weapons, combat training or operational advice.
Some rebel fighters find this perplexing, as they're in desperate need of all of those things. But they could also use organizational help, including a clearer chain of command.
Rebel Colonel Ahmed Bani, who serves as a spokesman for one field commander, General Khalifa Hiftar, is showing reporters around the tank yard when his phone rings. It's a journalist seeking clarification on who outranks whom, General Hiftar or the general preferred by the transitional council, Abdel-Fattah Younis? Colonel Bani is in clarification mode.
Colonel AHMED BANI (Spokesman, Rebel Army): Did I tell you that Mr. Younis is higher than Khalifa or Khalifa is higher than Younis? No, I didn't say that. Both are in the same level. I didn't say...
KENYON: Bani explains that Hiftar and Younis are essentially on the same level, and both answer to the Defense Minister Omar Hariri. But in media interviews, Hiftar has made it clear that he considers himself the overall commander. It's one among a myriad of problems the foreign advisers will likely face.
(Soundbite of machinery)
KENYON: At a military facility held by pro-Gadhafi forces before the rebels drove them from the city last month, rebel trainees learn to load a North Korean grad rocket into a homemade launcher on the back of a pickup truck. The rockets were left behind by the pro-government forces. A rebel officer calls them terribly inaccurate weapons that have been banned by some countries and then proceeds to show reporters how the rebels are jury rigging an electrical circuit with doorbell buttons so they can use them themselves.
While western officials debate the dangers of mission creep and the geopolitical import of foreign military officers on the ground in eastern Libya, the rebels are struggling to hold their impatient ranks in check while they bring some semblance of organization to bear.
Colonel Bani says they don't have much choice.
Col. BANI: We will wait in patience until they arm us, and then I'm sure that the picture is going to change.
KENYON: Bani displays the typical rebel confidence, a bravura that warms the spirits of Libyans here but ignores the analysis of many international defense experts, who agree that there probably is not a military solution to this conflict.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Benghazi.
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