By Eymen Gamha
Day 1, August 26th, 2011. My trip to Libya started at the Wazen-Dhehiba border, in southern Tunisia. After spending a while waiting in a line of cars, the rebels checked our passports and we finally entered Libya. The way from the border to Az-Zintan was winding and we had to stop at many checkpoints. The entire way through the western mountains was fully controlled by the rebels, but preventative measures were necessary.
We reached Az-Zintan, a city of 45,000 located in the western mountains. The city was heavily attacked by Gaddafi’s troops. The rebels fought back proudly and ousted Gaddafi’s soldiers. Tribes in the western mountains possessed light weapons that helped them defend themselves. But high-ranking military officers who joined the rebels helped them get weapons and ammunition and taught them how to use heavy weapons in order to defend themselves against the massive attack of Gaddafi’s troops who launched, according to some rebels, around 3,000 missiles during four months and left 6,000 people dead.
After the rebels gained complete control over the western mountains, they tried to organize themselves and start to manage the post-Gaddafi era. They created institutions such as the press center, as well as a military council. And many citizens declared to me that they are just waiting for the end of the war to give back the weapons they used.
Day 2, August 27th, 2011. On the way to Tripoli from Az-Zintan, the rebels controlled the road. But you can clearly see the remains of the intense clashes between pro-Gaddafi troops and the rebels. There were destroyed buildings, burnt cars and tanks.
After a few hours, we reached the International Airport of Tripoli. The rebels gained control of the airport on August 22nd, but on the morning of the 27th, around 500 African and Serbian mercenaries working for Gaddafi surrounded the airport, launching Grad and Hawn missiles randomly between 6am and 8am. Four planes were destroyed, including one of the two private planes of the Libyan leader. A missile also hit a kerosene tanker. The Gaddafi forces’ attempt to regain the airport failed, but at 4pm of the same day, Gaddafi’s mercenaries attacked the airport again, and we were forced to leave as the battle grew more intense.
Day 3 and 4, August 28th and 29th. I was in Tripoli, a city which was lucky to avoid a bloodbath. The inhabitants of Tripoli, with the help of the battalions from Az-Zintan and Misrata, launched an attack a week ago and freed the capital from Gaddafi control. But the traces of the war are still very clear. You can see bombarded buildings everywhere, burnt cars, and cartridge traces on the walls. There are several checkpoints in the streets of Tripoli, and the flag of the rebels was flying all around the city.
But the decisive success of the rebels was the taking of Bab Al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s stronghold, on August 23rd. The attack began on August 20th and was carried out by Misrata’s Battalion with help from Tripoli rebels and NATO. On August 23rd, the bunker fell to the rebels. The neighbors of the military complex described the attack as the “conquest of Mecca.”
Gaddafi’s regime fell, but the leader is still on the run. His wife Safia, his daughter Ayesha and sons Muhammad and Hannibal crossed into Algeria early on Monday, August 29th. But at the same time, the National Transitional Council of Libya (NTC) controls almost the whole country, and the cities of Sirt and Sebha, the last bastions of pro-Gaddafi forces, are surrounded by the rebels.
Life in Tripoli is getting back to normal. There is still a shortage of water, food and gas, and interruptions in electricity are still very common. But because the rebels have controlled the Ras Jedir border crossing since August 26th, Tripoli can be easily supplied with goods. At the same time, international help is moving toward the capital of Libya.