Thursday, October 20, 2011
Rebel's Makeshift Contraption
Libya: rebels build huge armoured battering ram
Rebel forces trying to punch into a final pocket of Gaddafi loyalists holding out in Sirte have built a huge armoured battering ram which they hope will break the deadlock.
The contraption is built around a bulldozer covered in sheets of steel and concrete armour.
Thirteen days into the final assault on Col Muammar Gaddafi's birthplace, loyalists defending district two are still defying thousands of rebels and inflicting heavy casualties.
Brigades from Misurata said they would use the machine, painted in revolutionary red, green and black, to sweep aside barricades blocking the road from the western Zafran district into the loyalist enclave.
It would also plough through houses and walls to forge new routes for their advance, hidden from loyalist snipers who have killed or wounded scores in the past week.
Medics on the Zafran front said they had seen 10 killed and 51 wounded during a push forward on Tuesday alone.
Ali Abu Daboos, a 22-year-old mechanic who will be one of the five-man crew, said: "It's very dangerous and adventurous. It will help us make roads for the other vehicles to follow us." The machine's armour is a ton-and-a-half of concrete sandwiched between plates of inch-thick steel.
"We hope it is thick enough to resist the rocket-propelled grenades. They will be firing from very close," said one rebel onlooker.
Fighters cheered when a man in a naval officer's hat directed the machine, clanking and squealing, up to the front line.
The National Transitional Council forces have about 20 captured Soviet-era tanks in Sirte and a handful of armoured personnel carriers. However they have failed to use the armour to any effect in the siege.
Intense bombardment of district two has also done little to soften the loyalist defences and rebel leaders suspect the defenders can hide safely in basements during the barrages.
The driver directs the battering ram with the aid of a video camera mounted in the front armour.
Inside four gunners can fire from gun ports in the side. The inside was stacked with AK-47s, heavy machine guns, grenades and water bottles in preparation for the mission.
Ali Abdullah, a 20-year-old student who is another crew member said: "We will be watching from the portholes and if we see them trying to flank us, we'll shoot them."
By Rania El Gamal and Tim Gaynor
SIRTE, Libya | Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:59pm EDT
(Reuters) - Libyan interim government fighters have renewed their offensive on the besieged town of Sirte after being pushed back by die-hard Muammar Gaddafi loyalists holed up in the deposed leader's home town.
Hundreds of National Transitional Council (NTC) troops have surrounded the Mediterranean coastal town for weeks in a chaotic struggle to snuff out the last pocket of resistance against the revolution that ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule.
Grad rockets, artillery and tank fire rained down on pro-Gaddafi positions in the center of the town on Wednesday.
Asked about the government forces' slow progress in taking Sirte, one NTC fighter at the front said: "All we can think of is catching the rat Gaddafi. We are taking it slowly, step by step. We have been patient for 42 years."
NTC fighters have deployed an arsenal of homemade weapons. On Wednesday a bulldozer arrived at the front fitted with armor and resembling a small ship, with a pointed prow and port holes. On its front was mounted a tank turret and the sides were made from concrete sandwiched between steel plate.
A man wearing a black ship's captain's hat with gold braid sat atop the contraption as it maneuvered into place, plowing into a lamp-post in the process.
Government fighters shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) as it made its lumbering progress toward make-shift barricades of vehicles and shipping containers put up by Gaddafi loyalists.
The NTC's failure to seize Sirte, nearly two months since the fall of Tripoli, has raised questions about its ability to exert its authority over the entire country and has postponed the launch of its promised democracy program.
On Monday, NTC forces captured the other main Gaddafi stronghold, the desert town of Bani Walid, where the ousted leader's loyalists had put up resistance for two months.
NTC forces were poised a few days ago to declare victory in Sirte, but on Tuesday they were forced to retreat in some places under intense fire.
But a day later, NTC fighters had taken back the lost ground and made further gains so that for the first time government forces attacking from the east and west could see each other's positions through the Gaddafi-held enclave.
SNIPERS FACE TANKS
Fighters reported Gaddafi soldiers had been firing at them wearing civilian clothes so had stepped up security and were closely checking the identities of everyone at the front, including reporters.
But faced with a disciplined and determined force, many NTC fighters theorized the defenders may be guarding a high-value target, perhaps even Gaddafi himself.
"Why else would a sniper try to take on a tank?" asked Jafar Al Sharif who commands some eight tanks positioned in the streets of Sirte pounding the low-rise apartment blocks housing Gaddafi remaining loyalists.
The NTC offensive, by mostly amateur fighters, has been hampered by a lack of coordination. Units which converged on Sirte from Benghazi in eastern Libya and Misrata to the west have lost men when they fired at each other by mistake.
Gaddafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of civilians, is in hiding, possibly deep in Libya's Sahara desert.
Inspired by protests in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt that ended in the overthrow of long-standing autocratic leaders, Libyans rose up against Gaddafi in February, but it took six months of civil war to end his one-man rule.
The NTC lent its backing to another regional revolt on Wednesday, officially recognizing as Syria's legitimate authority an umbrella opposition council struggling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
While Gaddafi himself is still at large, his wife, two sons and a daughter fled to neighboring Algeria shortly after Tripoli was captured by the NTC in August.
Algeria's foreign minister said his country let them in for "humanitarian reasons." The NTC at the time called it an "act of aggression," but has since moved to patch up ties with Algeria.
"Algeria has systematically honored all its obligations as a member of the international community," Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told a news conference in Algiers alongside British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday.
Hague, on a tour of the region, said he respected Algeria's position but had requested all countries in the region honor obligations to turn over any indicted war crimes suspects.
(Additional reporting by Yasmine Saleh in Tripoli and Adrian Croft in Algiers; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Jon Boyle)