Salam El-Awkly, 42, normally
works as a driver but seemed to tend to the cannon now. El-Awkly
explained "me too I am a mujahid -- for freedom." Another quiet young
man wore Italian designer shoes and a flak helmet with distinctive
earflaps -- from Qaddafi's military. He never explained how he'd gotten
it, but others report taking them from captured troops or from the
military buildings seized by rebels in the east.
Al-Ketrani is one of five rebel generals who coordinated Friday's military
deployment. On Saturday, he sat in his office in one of Benghazi's
military organizational headquarters and drew thoughtfully on a
cigarette in a gold-tipped holder. A large and detailed map of Surte and
its environs (in Russian) adorned the wall. He had been on the front
lines all day Thursday and Friday.
He wouldn't discuss numbers or
weapons of the army, but Al-Ketrani explained the overall situation and
how it had changed. "Qaddafi has tanks and Grad missiles with a 40
kilometer range. His rockets only have a 3-kilometer range. The [NATO-led]
airstrikes were the number-one factor in our success, because they
allowed us to approach Qaddafi troops close enough so that our weapons
were in range. Now we are in full attack mode."
forces units (Saiqa, or "Thunder"), among the best trained of the
remnants of Qaddafi's eastern army, were deployed on Friday along with
regular army: the 36th regiment from Benghazi and the 21st from Tobruk
were in attendance.
Al-Ketrani said of his army, "The rebel
shebaab are not trained or experienced. Some of them drink alcohol, or
smoke hashish. We lose the maximum number when people race to the front
in civilian cars with no training. Now the regular army is working to
secure Brega, and our orders to the shebaab are to stay at least five,
in some places as many as 30 kilometers back from where the army units
are." When asked about the NATO airstrikes that had killed a number of
rebel youths, Al-Ketrani shrugged. "This is a war, accidents happen," he
said. He affirmed that the cause of the accident was most likely to be
the celebratory fire that so many untrained young men engage in.
the war is first on his agenda at the moment, Al-Ketrani's says he has
bigger goals for Libya. "Qaddafi gave the West the image that we [the
revolutionaries] are all Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brothers -- why not
make friendship with the whole world? We want to give the West the real
image of ourselves: We want three things: freedom, love, and peace in
the whole world." He added. "We have all kinds of people in Libya, the
good and the bad, the pious and the others: It is our right to reach out
to the U.S. and shake hands with them, as they do with us."