about Qaddafi's February speech, in which he pledged to hunt down
protesters house by house and what his men were ordered to do if they
encountered civilians. He paused before answering, "To be honest, it is
true. We believed what Qaddafi told us. We believed we would go there
and kill everyone."
I asked if he had seen any civilians killed.
In Misrata, he says, "We tried to find everyone there. One half of the
city was cleaned."
"What do you mean 'cleaned?'" I asked.
"The people were killed. Women, children, everyone there."
Who did the killing?
"Mostly it was Arabs but also some Tuareg."
Did you kill any civilians?
"No." He refused to elaborate.
asked about accusations that Qaddafi's forces had raped women. "I never
saw that," he said. But his unit found a group of women who claimed to
have been raped by men from Sudan and Egypt who had been fighting with
A few weeks after the NATO bombing campaign began,
Abdullah and four of his fellow Tuareg agreed to desert. "We decided
that Qaddafi was a little bit crazy and didn't know what he was doing."
They told the Tuareg officer in charge of their platoon they needed a
rest, and he convinced the Arab commanding officer to approve a pass for
the men to visit their families. "He knew we weren't coming back,"
Abdullah said of the Tuareg officer.
They took a bus to the
south. Some of the men disassembled their Kalashnikovs and took them
with them. Once in the southern Libyan town of Awbari, Abdullah burned
his uniform and all his identity papers and, with his wife and four
children, slipped out of the city to join other Tuareg refugees heading
for the Algerian border. Able to bring only their clothes and a few
household items, they left everything else.
I asked if he
regretted his decision to go to Libya. He hesitated before answering.
"The Tuareg say, 'It is easy to climb into a well and very hard to get
I checked his story with other Tuareg in Timbuktu, who
corroborated parts of it based on what they had heard from other
fighters, but many details are unverifiable. An official -- not a Tuareg
-- in the mayor's office confirmed that some men have arrived from
fighting in Libya, though he doesn't know how many. "I don't count
them," he said. "No one wants to talk about that."
A few days
later, in Mali's capital Bamako, I met a Tuareg officer in the Mali
army. He was rawboned with thick, leathery hands and heavy lines
creasing his forehead and around his eyes. Years of desert fighting have
made him look much older than his 42 years. As a young man, he said, he
was lured to Libya in the 1980s by radio broadcasts of Qaddafi calling
young Tuareg to join his revolution. "I admired the way he wasn't afraid
to stand up to the West, to anybody," he said.
But after being
sent to the Libya-Chad war and seeing how Libya's Arabs used the Tuareg
to do all the "difficult fighting," he lost his ardor for Qaddafi. He
left Libya and joined the Tuareg rebels who were fighting the Mali
government in the early 1990s.