Libya's Opposition Faces Fierce Counter-Offensive from Pro-Gadhafi Forces
Phil Ittner | Benghazi, Libya March 11, 2011
Libya’s opposition forces faced an intense counter-offensive from pro-Gadhafi forces on Friday. Our correspondent reports from Benghazi.
Libya’s rebels spent the Muslim holy day Friday shoring up defenses along the frontlines and boosting morale among their supporters.
In the small town of Ajdabiyah, Friday prayers took place in the main town square because of threats from Moammar Gadhafi that anyone gathering in the mosques to foment revolt would be targeted.
Ajdabiyah is close to where the frontlines of this fight have solidified near the oil town of Ras Lanuf, where fighters say they still hold the oil refinery on the outskirts of town.
Along the highway leading from the opposition headquarters of Benghazi, trucks carrying heavy weapons and fighters streamed toward the front to reinforce Ras Lanuf. The fighters say they will hold that refinery at all costs.
This, following a day of intense fighting which seemed to go the government’s way. Pro-Gadhafi units using combined artillery, airstrikes and naval bombardment pounded rebel positions.
In addition, fighters say they are facing infiltrators in their ranks who are capitalizing on the revolutionaries' lack of command and control.
Opposition leaders say they have thousands of enthusiastic fighters but few professional soldiers who have defected and who could provide the tactical skill they need.
Whether or not the reports of infiltrators is accurate, it has sowed the seeds of paranoia among the fighters. Opposition forces have set up checkpoints along the highways and areas surrounding the front, and are giving travelers much more scrutiny.
Another issue has caused concern - U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper's recent comments predicting that the government of Moammar Gadhafi will prevail against the rebellion in the long run.
The comments angered opposition spokesman Mustaffa Gheriani:
My response? For someone who has such a position and to come out and say such a thing! He must not have read his history. History is very evident that people always win, not tyrants with machines," said Gheriani.
Outside Gheriani’s office thousands of supporters of the opposition tried to recall that history.
Dressed in traditional costume, horsemen walked among the crowd.
Many in the crowd carried signs with the image of the Libyan opposition leader, Omar Mukhtar, the Lion of the Desert, who fought for nearly 20 years against the Italian occupation of Libya in the beginning of the 20th century. They also bore the present-day fighters' slogan, "No surrender. Either victory or death."
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