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Can Libya's Rebel Forces Really Take On Gadhafi?

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Can Libya's Rebel Forces Really Take On Gadhafi?


Can Libya's Rebel Forces Really Take On Gadhafi?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

In eastern Libya, rebel commanders say they have enough troops and arms not only to defend themselves, but also to go on the offensive. They insist they can march against Tripoli and other cities still controlled by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. One rebel commander tells NPR that orders have already been given to attack the capital. What's not clear is how effective the anti-government forces will be.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro travelled to the town of Ajdabiya today and filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ajdabiya is a dusty outpost on the Libyan coastal desert road that stretches west from Benghazi. On the edge of town is a large military base with an enormous stockpile of weapons.

The storerooms here look like something out of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." There are warehouses after warehouses with munitions stacked to the ceiling, and it's been partially looted. The munitions are scattered in a lot of places. It's a chaotic mess, and it's only guarded by about 30 men.

Mr. NIGEL COLLINS: There's grail, ground-to-air missiles, which are those things there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nigel Collins was at the munitions dump providing security for a Canadian news crew. He is ex-British army and says the weapons are not state of the art, but there is a lot of them, and they can be effective.

Mr. COLLINS: This will work if you put it in the hands of people that know what they're doing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But will the new force that is being built here be up to the task? Commanders are training young recruits in schools and mosques for up to four hours each day. Most men in Libya have some military experience because they are required to serve for at least six months. But the rebel army doesn't appear to be a cohesive professional force. At the weapons depot in Ajdabiya, only a few men stand guard.

Mr. ASHRAF MUSHATY: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ashraf Mushaty is one of the new recruits who's stationed at the base. He's short and slight, but he's wearing an uncomfortably large military uniform. He says fighter jets sent by Gadhafi tried to bomb the depot yesterday. He boasts that they were chased away by anti-aircraft guns fired by rebel forces. There is no sign that the jets dropped any bombs on the base.

Still, the area is a mess. There are guns and ammunition strewn all around, left there from when the base was pillaged in the aftermath of the uprising in the city. No one so far has tried to organize the cache.

The men here almost seem to be playing at being soldiers. One of the militia men suddenly grabs a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and fires it into the desert to impress a TV crew.

(Soundbite of rocket propeller)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The RPG round doesn't detonate on impact.

Hani el Abieday is a 39-year-old engineer who has volunteered to fight for the rebel army. He used to live in Germany, so he knows what a professional military looks like.

Mr. HANI EL ABIEDAY: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We don't have a real fighting force, he says. Our equipment is old, but what we have is the courage of the young people, he says. They are willing to die for their country.

Part of the problem is that unlike other countries in the Middle East, Gadhafi kept his army underpaid and under-resourced. One defector from the Libyan army said he only made about $300 a month when he was serving.

As evening fell, a convoy of rebel soldiers careened down the street shouting that they had been given the order to march on the capital. When a journalist tried to catch up to them, he found them stuck around the corner fixing a flat tire, their triumphant exodus prematurely stalled.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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