Libyan rebels bury their dead as more recruits enlist

The day after Libyan government forces were repelled in their attack on the rebel-controlled city of Port Brega, which houses a key oil facility and air base, rebels buried the dead and recruits of all ages began training at a site in nearby Benghazi. The victory at Port Brega has greatly raised morale among the rebels  and boosted the number of able-bodied men volunteering for the fight against Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi.

Times photographer Luis Sinco filed this from Port Brega:

The rebels’ victory Wednesday in Port Brega added fuel to the fire, inspiring many more people to join the battle. I visited a recruitment and training center in Benghazi on Thursday  and saw hundreds of men young and old getting ready for battle.

It’s interesting how soldiers the world over learn to march in basic training. In the conflicts I’ve covered, I have never actually seen men march into battle. It’s more about running and ducking and shooting and survival.

The rebels are not professional soldiers, but ordinary people. For them this war is about freedom, liberation, the future of their nation and generations yet to be born. According to them, it’s about overthrowing a despot and claiming self-determination.

There are two sayings in the Muslim world that have stayed with me since my time in Iraq. “Inshallah” means “God willing,” and “maktoub” means “It is written.”  For me, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Maybe true believers understand something that I don’t. Knowing that you will go immediately to heaven and receive great rewards might make the ultimate sacrifice easier or right. Right now, I’m thinking about my wife and kids, my mom, my brother — and I hope that my father, rest his soul, is watching over me.

I also attended a funeral today for two men — “martyrs,” they’re called — who died in Port Brega. One named Khaled Zarok Attghdi was 45. He had just returned to his native Libya from England, where he’d been living for the last 12 years.

He didn’t come home to fight. He simply wanted to check on family members living in Tripoli. But he saw television reports about the battle in Port Brega and got caught up in the fervor.

He and a friend drove down to the desert to join the rebels, and a missile fired from one of Moammar Kadafi’s fighter planes killed them both. Attghdi ran a food importing business in Manchester. He was married and had five children.

There was one more cautionary tale Thursday from the combat zone. Down south, an untrained rebel fighter mishandled a grenade and severely injured himself along with several others around him.

It’s surreal how the rebels commonly fire shots into the air or wave rocket-propelled grenades around like toys. I pray I won’t be around when the bullets come back to earth or an RPG gets dropped on the ground. There’s a lot of shooting going on around Libya, and most of the weapons I’ve seen have the safety latch off.  Bad stuff can happen at any time.

Experiences like these really put things in sharp perspective. Sometimes just living, breathing and walking can be so sweet in so many ways.


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