Framework

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Curiosity seekers check out a burned-out tank belonging to Kadafi loyalists on the outskirts of Ajdabiya on Sunday. Emboldened by the help of allied air cover, rebel forces have begun moving towards Surt, a Kadafi stronghold west of Ajdabiya.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A Libyan rebel fighter on the road to Ras Lanuf on Sunday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

An army boot left behind by retreating Kadafi loyalist forces sits amid the trash in the streets of Port Brega on Sunday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rebel fighter tucks a cocked semiautomatic pistol into his waistband in Ras Lanuf on Sunday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters set up a checkpoint in Uqaylah as they move west toward Ras Lanuf on Sunday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A car motors through Port Brega, a strategic oil city that rebels retook from Kadafi loyalist forces with little resistance on Sunday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters scavenge for weapons and ammunition at an abandoned Kadafi loyalist forces position in Ras Lanuf.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rebel fighter pauses to pray in a bullet-riddled cafe in Uqaylah as opposition forces move west toward Surt, the hometown of Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters appropriate ammunition left behind by retreating Kadafi loyalist forces in Ras Lanuf.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A rebel fighter takes ammunition left by retreating Kadafi loyalist forces in Ras Lanuf.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

The remains of a Kadafi loyalist forces supply truck shredded by shrapnel rests along the road to Ras Lanuf.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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A ride through familiar terrain

We took a ride through familiar terrain today, even though we hadn’t seen it for almost two weeks.

It seems like forever since we were last in Ras Lanuf, where rebels fighting forces loyal to Moammar Kadafi began their long retreat under a hail of shells, missiles and bombs. But a lot can change over time — and the rebels are back and pushing quickly towards Surt, Kadafi’s hometown and easternmost stronghold.

It takes more than four hours to get from Benghazi to Ras Lanuf through a relentlessly stark landscape — the monotony broken only by the occasional dumpy town, shifting sand dune, stunted tree or dusty palm.

This part of Libya isn’t much to look at.  But what counts is underground, i.e. vast seas of precious crude. About 46.4 billion barrels to be exact. The largest oil reserves in Africa.

Signs of the fight are clearly visible all along the way, from the burned-out hulks of armored vehicles on the outskirts of Ajdabiya to the shattered walls and windows of Port Brega, Bishr and Uqaylah.

Ras Lanuf, a strategic oil town, is relatively untouched, but devoid of life. The entire town eerily silent except for the waves crashing on the beach. It’s weird to be here now and not be worrying about explosive projectiles screaming out of nowhere.

The rebels are in a much better mood these days as well, with their morale high again. Free of the same worries, they feel emboldened once more. Blissfully ignorant of the raging political debate in the United States and among NATO member nations, they believe they now have an air force, care of allied Western powers that provide precious cover from above.

Forgetting the recent past, they are friends again with the sahafin, or journalists.  They offer us food, drink, quotes and photo opportunities. Ten days ago, as they retreated in disarray, they accused us of calling in airstrikes by Kadafi forces on their positions. But what has passed is past, and it seems that all is forgiven. They think they’re winning and they’re cutting us a lot of slack.

It’s miraculous what a W in the win-loss column will do, but I wonder how long it will last. Kadafi’s forces in Surt are not going to lie down. The rebels remain undisciplined, untrained and under-equipped.

Moreover, the allied Western powers have made it clear they will not unconditionally support a rebel offensive or provide close air support. The stated mission is to protect civilian populations that come under attack from government forces.

But whatever. The rebels will think about that later.

In Port Brega, I met a fighter sporting a brand new pair of shiny, black combat boots. He was happy to tell me how he found them abandoned in the street by Kadafi forces along with some fatigue shirts and trousers, and a handful of military belts and socks.

As we parted ways, he smiled broadly, flashed the victory sign and said, “War is good.”

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