Under the pine trees behind a sand barrier defence on Misurata’s western front line, the boys of the Martyr brigade laughed, and returned a torrent of insults. The group’s anti-aircraft gun was pointed outwards to the open expanse of fields where the loyalist troops roam.
The bonds between the young men were forged in the urban battles that raged for months on Misurata’s Tripoli Street. Now they are to learning adapt to the front line of open war.
For more than a month, the fighters have been stationed at the end of a dirt track that delineates the western front line at Dafniya. Long range shelling; pounding mortars, BM21 ‘Grad’ missiles, and katyusha rockets define their new war.
“Before we were street fighters, you slept on one road, whilst the enemy slept next door. Kalashnikovs were useful. Here we are fighting in open fields, we need bigger weapons and new tactics,” said fighter Hazem Abu Zeid, 29.
Life and death
They lack heavy munitions, with Grad rocket launchers being few and far between. The weapons they do have are captured by running incursions into enemy ground. “This is the good weapon!” said Salah Mabrook, spying a rusty antiquated anti-aircraft gun on a green leopard print painted Toyota pickup that they took in battle.
Every Friday forces loyal to Colonel Muammer Gaddafi have launched massive offensives on their position. Friday in mid-June, a day that still sends shivers down their spines, was second bloodiest day for the rebel fighters since the battled moved to the city; over 30 of their comrades were killed, and 150 injured.
A crater of splattered shrapnel marks in the road beside the fighters’. Mattresses marks where one of the rockets exploded. A fighter plucked a piece of shrapnel beside a pillow. “This is the piece of rocket killed our friend Ali Seck. We feel such sorrow for our friends, a lot of them have died beside me, just shot in the head,” said Zeid.
Every Thursday, Misurata braces herself for attack. Rebels clean and load their Kalashnikovs, medical staff organise emergency room teams and prepare surgical instrument sets. The elderly and their children scurry to buy provisions so that they won’t have to go outdoors on Friday. Housewives cook meals for the rebels on the front lines.
Rebels gathered on the beach, running, and diving into the crashing waves. As the sun sank on the horizon silence fell on the group as they contemplated what tomorrow would bring. “Maybe tomorrow I will be dead,” said a young fighter nicknamed ‘Ronaldo’ for his love of football.
But as members of the Misurata council declared that their fighters could not again suffer such an attack, on the front line rebel youths stand determined to fight.