x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Libyan rebels' lack of unity costs them in battle against Qaddafi

The divided loyalties of Libya's Western Mountains rebels are on display whenever they go into combat. The groups from different towns are capable of fighting alongside each other in planned operations, but split up afterwards, allowing Qaddafi forces to regroup.

ZINTAN // The rebelsin Libya's Western Mountains have shown resilience over months of battling Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's forces, but divided loyalties could frustrate their ambitions for an assualt on Tripoli.

Opposition fighters in the region, who lie about 100 kilometres south of Tripoli, have not been organised into a single unit.

Instead they have been split by town and sometimes also by ethnic group, making it challenging for them to sustain an offensive beyond their home turf.

Those short-comings has been exposed in the village of Al Qawalish, seized a week ago in a massed attack that brought together hundreds of rebel fighters from different communities.

But after the battle, most went back home, leaving a small local force to defend it.

Troops loyal to Colonrl Qaddafi exploited that on Wednesday when they attacked and overran the village.

The rebels massed again and by nightfall were back in control of Al Qawalish, but their tactical blunders cost them as seven men were killed in Wednesday evening's skirmishes.

Most of the casualties in the battles for Al Qawalish were borne by fighters from Zintan, one of the main towns in the region, a stretch of arid mountain plateaux that extend to the border with Tunisia.

Moussab Edueb, a rebel commander, said the people of Zintan were resigned to bearing the brunt of the fighting.

"We know that we have no choice. The people of Zintan have to defend all of Libya," he said.

As for neighbouring villages, he added: "If they can, we need them to do more. We want all the Libyans to fight, but what can we do if they don't want to fight."

The divided loyalties of the Western Mountains rebels have been on display whenever they go into combat. The groups from different towns are capable of fighting alongside each other in planned operations, but for the most part they do not mix.

As soon as they roll into a new area, one of their first acts is to mark their turf with graffiti by tagging the walls with the names of their home towns.

This dedication to their communities had been forged in the first months of the rebellion, when towns such as Zintan, Nalut and Yafran survived weeks of artillery bombardment and finally fought off the government troops besieging them.

The biggest and most heavily armed force in the region is from Zintan.

The town's fighters and commanders have months of battlefield experience and played a leading role in capturing Al Qawalish both times, with their arsenal of rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and armoured vehicles.

But some Zintan fighters have complained that they have not been given enough credit for their firepower and other towns' forces has not pulled their weight.

Adding to the rivalry, Zintan and some of its neighbours are Arab towns, while fighters from many other Western Mountains villages are from the Berber minority.