By Bob Strong
The Libyan rebel march to Tripoli – from the mountains to the coast
In late July we pulled up to a Libyan rebel checkpoint outside the mountain town of Nalut and I got my first look at the fighting force. One rebel had his helmet on backwards, a few of them were armed with only knives, and random gunfire filled the air as men test fired their new weapons. It felt like the rebels couldn’t defeat a boy scout troop, much less Gaddafi’s well equipped army. As usual, I was dead wrong.
The rebels advance from the west began in the small towns at the base of the Nafusa Mountains in late July. The day we arrived, July 28, rebels had pushed Gaddafi forces out of a series of villages and set their sights on Tiji, a strategic garrison town on a main road leading to Tripoli.
With no electricity in the nearby towns, the Reuters team of reporter Michael Georgy, myself and a driver based ourselves in a hotel across the border in Tunisia. This meant getting up at 6am every day, crossing the Libyan border, and driving 3 hours to the front lines. We would usually get back to the hotel around 9 or 10 at night, eat and sleep.
For reasons unknown, the rebel push on Tiji stalled, so we decided to head east, to the mountain town of Zintan. We rented a house there, about an hour drive to the front lines. The house wasn’t exactly deluxe, but it had the basics and cut our drive time considerably. Most of the shops were still closed and food supplies were limited, so we brought in boxes of pasta, canned tuna and tomato paste and the driver would cook dinner at night.
Our first trip to the front brought us to a gravel pit on a ridge overlooking the village of Bir al-Ghanam. It was a Gaddafi-held town 3 or 4 kms (2-3 miles) away and his troops seemed to be well entrenched. As we looked at the tired group of rebels camped in the dirt, and the town off in the distance, I thought to myself, ‘if they try to advance they’ll be cut down like dogs.’ One day later, the rebels took the town.