As Gaddafi’s forces moved toward his home town, Barady, 30, volunteered at an opposition base, but there was no time for training. When government forces launched a fierce attack on Benghazi, he recalled, “the commander said, ‘Empty the base, go to the streets and hide yourselves — and if you want to fight, you can.’ ”
Such is the state of the rebels’ ragtag army, which has plenty of heart but not much organization, training or chain of command. A few seasoned officers, defectors from Gaddafi’s army, have stepped in to help, but with no command structure and a hodgepodge of weapons, rebel leaders acknowledge that it has been as hard to train a new army during wartime as it has been to restrain eager fighters from charging off to the battlefield.
“In a revolution, it’s very hard to control patriotic, excited young men,” said Mustafa Gheriani, an opposition spokesman. “If you come in and say, ‘I would like to volunteer,’ there is no system to receive you.”
Eastern Libya is on an adrenaline high, as people revel in a Gaddafi-free existence for the first time in 41 years. In these heady days, the fever of war has burned more clearly than the means of waging it.
Throughout the region, young men in mismatched fatigues and camouflage have set up checkpoints and installed themselves on street corners, with assault rifles and bayonets slung over their shoulders, handcuffs and knives shoved into pants pockets, cigarettes dangling from their lips.
They are students and engineers, bakers and plumbers whom circumstance has turned into soldiers. They have learned to jerry-rig antiaircraft artillery onto the backs of pickup trucks. They have packed into cars and driven to wherever the fighting was taking place. They lack communication equipment and, in many cases, have no idea with whom to communicate. Some arrive at the front unarmed, confident they can poach a weapon from a dead soldier.
But on the battlefield, enthusiasm only gets you so far. With nearly 8,000 rebels killed, by their own count, the movement’s leaders are struggling to impose structure and discipline onto an army that has existed only for a month and, if not for the airstrikes by the international coalition, probably would have been demolished by now.
Since the airstrikes, the movement’s leaders said, they have taken a more measured approach.
“We are preparing ourselves, and we are trying to hold ourselves back a little bit,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, president of the interim government, said last week. “When the heavy military machinery of Gaddafi becomes weak, we’ll be able to move.”