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A fighter climbs aboard a burning government tank after rebels retook Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A boy in Benghazi's central square celebrates the rebel victory in Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A government helmet lies on the ground near a burning tank after the rebel victory in Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Men bag the body of a fallen fighter on the outskirts of Ajdabiya after it was retaken by rebels.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Bullet holes pockmark the image of a pre-Kadafi flag painted on a wall in Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebels joyride in a jeep abandoned by retreating Kadafi loyalist forces in Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A hospital employee puts the body of a rebel fighter into a morgue chamber in Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rebel fighter celebrates the retaking of Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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Libyan uprising retakes Ajdabiya

By Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times

The rebel forces of the Libyan uprising retook Ajdabiya today after a week of largely waiting for somebody else to do the dirty work.

For the second time in six days, warplanes of allied Western forces bombed and strafed Kadafi loyalist forces, laying waste to heavy armor, artillery and men at the entrances on both sides of the key city some 95 miles southwest of Benghazi.

When the smoke cleared, all the rebels had to do was waltz on in and celebrate in the maniacal style that has become their trademark.

All day long, they danced atop bombed-out tanks — and frantically waved the red, black and green flag of pre-Kadafi Libya.  As usual, they fired thousands of rounds into the air; mindless of the fact that what goes up must eventually come down.

In a large traffic circle in the center of town, they drove gun trucks and vehicles appropriated from the enemy like crazed teenagers — squealing tires and leaving tracks of burned rubber in the shape of large doughnuts.

At one point, so many people were shooting off so many rounds, it sounded like the end of the world. I heard a roar and saw across the plaza a rebel fighter with a smoking launcher on his shoulder. The rocket-propelled grenade arced across the sky, disappeared behind some buildings and exploded in the distance. God only knows what it hit.

Look, I love a good party as much as the next guy, but this was totally ridiculous. I knew that I had to leave before one of these nuts accidentally killed me.

The sickly smells of scorched metal and rotting flesh filled the air, and swarms of black flies buzzed about — telltale signs of the war’s carnage.

The official count thus far: 82 dead and 150 wounded. But one might guess that the real tally could be much higher. I can only imagine that bombs and missiles molecularized a good number of men, raining down mercilessly from jets they couldn’t even see, flitting across the blue sky some 20,000 feet above.

On the way out, we stopped to watch an ambulance crew recover a body from a bullet-riddled car that had fallen into a deep ravine below the road. As I walked up on the scene, the overpowering smell of decomposition hit me in the face, instantly taking me like a time traveler at warp speed to all the most horrible places I’ve ever been. It took all my strength not to run away, but I stayed and took pictures. Hours later I could still taste that smell.

Back in Benghazi, I was surprised to find a subdued crowd around the courthouse square. I thought that they would be celebrating like the rebels in Ajdabiya. Instead, many people quickly left after evening prayers.

Maybe the now-pervasive reek of death has sobered them up as well.

1 Comment

  1. December 2, 2011, 1:50 am

    What a truly fun piece!!!

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