Portraits Of Libya's Relentless Rebels

  • These anonymous portraits show some of Libya's rebel warriors in the crossroads town of Ajdabiya during the first week of March.
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    These anonymous portraits show some of Libya's rebel warriors in the crossroads town of Ajdabiya during the first week of March.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR/All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR
  • The men in these photographs are soldiers, laborers, businessmen, students and unemployed youth.
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    The men in these photographs are soldiers, laborers, businessmen, students and unemployed youth.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR
  • The rebels had no training, no leadership and no real help.
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    The rebels had no training, no leadership and no real help.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR
  • Hundreds of revolutionaries congregated in Ajdabiya to fight Gadhafi's army.
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    Hundreds of revolutionaries congregated in Ajdabiya to fight Gadhafi's army.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR
  • They were certain they would be able to topple Gadhafi's regime and were willing to fight — and die --for the cause.
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    They were certain they would be able to topple Gadhafi's regime and were willing to fight — and die —for the cause.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR
  • The weapons the rebels used proved to be no match for Gadhafi's forces.
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    The weapons the rebels used proved to be no match for Gadhafi's forces.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR
  • When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. Laughing people pressed close to touch him. The next evening he was in a field hospital, his face covered in ash, unable to speak, shell shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli.
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    When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. Laughing people pressed close to touch him. The next evening he was in a field hospital, his face covered in ash, unable to speak, shell shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR
  • The Libyan soldiers who initially defected to join the rebels have largely left; the rebels were eventually overpowered by Gadhafi's army.
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    The Libyan soldiers who initially defected to join the rebels have largely left; the rebels were eventually overpowered by Gadhafi's army.
    All photos by Trevor Snapp for NPR

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I arrived a few days after Moammar Gadhafi's army was pushed out of eastern Libya in a series of bloody clashes. I expected to find conflict; instead, I found a carnival. A glorious whirlwind of flags, prayers and chants, martyr stories and burned-out government buildings. People went to bed at 6 a.m.; Al-Jazeera was projected on the wall 24-7; fishermen threw tomato cans full of dynamite into the stormy sea; and cars honked incessantly.

But as time wore on, and Gadhafi consolidated the power he still had, the people of eastern Libya realized they had opened a Pandora's box of violence from which they could never go back. And so they prepared for war. A war to liberate their country.

When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. The next evening he was in a field hospital, shell-shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli. i i

When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. The next evening he was in a field hospital, shell-shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli. Trevor Snapp for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Trevor Snapp for NPR
When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. The next evening he was in a field hospital, shell-shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli.

When this man arrived in Ajdabiya he was full of confidence. The next evening he was in a field hospital, shell-shocked from an airstrike on the road to Tripoli.

Trevor Snapp for NPR

These anonymous portraits show some of Libya's warriors in the checkpoint town of Ajdabiya in early March. They are soldiers and laborers, businessman and unemployed youth. More than 15,000 volunteered in Benghazi, and thousands more made their way here on their own. I hope these portraits show some of the fear, but mostly the determination felt by the rebels.

At one of the morgues I saw a man, his eyes frozen open, his face a mask of horror. Men touched his head, and kissed his face. "This morning he left his home, he could not see any more of his people die," I was told. Without even a weapon he hitchhiked to the front until he got to the fighting. He wanted to die, the men said — his children could not grow up without the freedom he knew.

Another man met a similar fate, but survived. When I first took his photograph, he had just leapt out of a truck into the crowd at the checkpoint, his body layered in commando gear and confidence. People pressed close to touch him, laughing — also confident. But the next evening I found him in a field hospital: his face covered in ash, unable to speak, shell shocked from an airstrike at sunset on the road to Tripoli.

The same fighter is seen the day after his portrait was taken. He'd been hit by a blast from an airstrike. i i

The same fighter is seen the day after his portrait was taken. He'd been hit by a blast from an airstrike. Trevor Snapp for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Trevor Snapp for NPR
The same fighter is seen the day after his portrait was taken. He'd been hit by a blast from an airstrike.

The same fighter is seen the day after his portrait was taken. He'd been hit by a blast from an airstrike.

Trevor Snapp for NPR

I stood at the gate until dark watching young men and old veterans charge toward their fate against almost impossible odds. "He will have to kill every last one of us," a volunteer told me. "We are fighting for freedom. He is fighting for nothing."

See more of Trevor Snapp's photography here.

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