It was all meant to be so different. The fall of Gaddafi's last loyalist strongholds was supposed to be no more than "a matter of hours" away. But peace talks broke down and a two-week ultimatum ran out. Fighting has now been going on since last Thursday (September 15) in Sirte, Gaddafi's home town, and in Bani Walid, around 150 kilometres south of Tripoli.
National Transition Council forces have tried several times to fight their way into the city centres of both only to be repelled by heavy fire on each occasion. The Gaddafi supporters have had time enough to prepare themselves for the confrontation with the "traitors and rats", as the ex-dictator liked to refer to the rebels. The elite units dug in in Sirte and Bani Walid appear to be more disciplined and certainly better organised than their rather desperate opponents.
In military terms the NTC is chaotic and the cracks in the ostensibly united rebel front are becoming all too obvious. When Gaddafi was still in power in Tripoli and all their efforts were concentrated on taking the capital, no one in the rebel ranks was interested in anyone else's ethnic origins or geographical background. But with the dictator on the run and his regime overthrown, the cohesive force that was the common enemy has been removed.
At Sirte and Bani Walid there is open conflict between NTC fighters. Militia from the city of Misrata, having held out for months against a siege by the Libyan army, are now less than willing to take their orders from commanders from other cities. Members of the Warfalla tribe in the rebel ranks are suspected of being spies. There are Warfalla in Bani Walid, and they are fighting for Gaddafi.
"Warfalla commanders tell us one thing, the commanders in other towns tell us something else," explained Mohammed Saleh, one of the NTC fighters. Organisation is chaotic: the infantry is too fast, the artillery too slow, or vice versa.
By Alfred Hackensberger
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