East Libya rebels organize, head towards oil town

By Alexander Dziadosz

AJDABIYAH, Libya (Reuters) – Rebels moved rockets and other equipment forward toward Brega on Friday, seeking to retake the oil town and regain momentum against better equipped forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

At a checkpoint on the outskirts of the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiyah, rebels prevented unarmed Libyans seeking to join battle from going beyond the town’s boundaries toward Brega, where rebels and Gaddafi’s troops fought on Thursday.

Rebels said neither side could claim control of Brega, one of a string of oil towns along the coast that have been taken and retaken several times by each side in recent weeks. Rebels, even helped by Western air strikes, have failed to hold gains.

“Some military have come and strengthened the rebel lines. God willing, they will begin with Ajdabiyah and go to Brega and Ras Lanuf,” said Khaled al-Farjani, a captain in the Libyan air force who is now fighting with the rebels.

Oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider are now in the control of the Libyan leader’s forces, which have used rockets and other heavier equipment to pummel rebels, many of whom have little training and rely heavily on pick-ups and machine guns.

Members of the opposition movement seeking to end Gaddafi’s more than 40 years in power have praised the enthusiasm of their fighters but have often voiced frustration at the lack of discipline or coordination at the front.

On Thursday evening, about 10 vehicle transporters loaded with trucks mounted with multiple rocket launchers headed away from Benghazi toward Ajdabiyah, although it was not clear where their final destination was, a Reuters witness said.

MILITARY DISCIPLINE

There were signs on Friday of a more ordered approach. Rebels said more trained officers were at the front, heavier rockets were seen moving toward Ajdabiyah late on Thursday and the checkpoint was screening those going through.

“Only those who have large weapons are being allowed through. Civilians without weapons are prohibited,” said Ahmed Zaitoun, one of the rebel fighters and part of a brigade of civilian volunteers who have received more training than most.

“Today we have officers coming with us. Before we went alone,” he said and he pointed to a man complaining at being stopped at the checkpoint, adding: “He is a young boy and he doesn’t have a gun, what will he do up there?”

The new approach has yet to be tested after the rout rebels faced this week when a two-day rebel advance forward along about 200 km (125 miles) of coast from Brega was repulsed and turned into a rapid retreat over the following two days.

The United States, France and Britain, which have led the airstrikes, have talked about the possibility arming the rebels. There have also been revelations that U.S. President Barack Obama signed a secret order authorising covert U.S. support.

Asked if he had seen any covert Western operatives at the frontline with rebels, Zaitoun said: “I wish. They have great technology. They would have useful guidance for us. I have heard many things but I haven’t seen anything yet.”

On the road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah, gun emplacements were set up in freshly dug ditches with sand berms that faced toward Ajdabiyah and the frontline, the first sign of organized defensive positions protecting Benhgazi.

(Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo; editing by Ralph Boulton)

East Libya rebels organize, head towards oil town