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Rebel fighters take up positions around Bin Jawwad, where they engaged forces loyal to Moammar Kadafi in an intense fight before retreating by late afternoon.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A fighter's weapon is decorated with the tricolor flag adopted by the Libyan rebels.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Rebel fighters under attack by government forces are in retreat.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Libyan rebel fighters are on the run as government forces retake territory.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A Libyan rebel fighter cools off after retreating from Bin Jawwad.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Libyan rebel fighters collect the last remaining drops of gasoline from the tanks of a filling station.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A fighter looks back toward Bin Jawwad as he joins a rebel exodus.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Retreating rebel fighters pack a pickup leaving Bin Jawwad.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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Libya: Rebels retreat after failed attempt to take Surt

By Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times

The road out of Bin Jawwad looked like rush hour on the 405 Freeway as the rebels ran for their lives today after taking a pounding from forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.

With no air cover from the allied Western powers, the rebels faced the enemy completely on their own — and again were outgunned and overmatched.

Initial reports had the rebels taking the Kadafi stronghold of Surt early Monday, but in fact they barely made it 50 miles east of the town before being pushed back from a landmark called Gate 80.

I was watching the action from atop an earthen berm about a mile east of Bin Jawwad, and saw shell after shell slam into the desert town. The hours-long bombardment created a dusty pall over the area. The ground shook and rockets streaked across the sky. It was a sight to behold.

Then, late in the afternoon, I saw the strobe-like flashes of antiaircraft artillery blasting away at the edge of town. The guns were aimed horizontally, not vertically as they are intended. Direct fire streaked across the landscape.

I saw a jumble of action at the edge of town as the rebels boarded their vehicles and fled headlong away from Bin Jawwad. Within minutes they reached where I stood, and the rebels around me joined the exodus. My driver, Mohammed, and I ran too, and we eventually got a ride from rebels in a pickup truck.

I jumped aboard, landed on a pile of rocket-propelled grenades, and nearly freaked out. A lone rebel sat in the bed of the truck and said something to Mohammed in Arabic, causing him to laugh. When we finally got out of the truck and into our car, I asked him what the rebel had said.

“He said he was just on the phone to (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy to ask what was happening with the air cover,” Mohammed said. “Sarkozy said, ‘Could you wait five minutes? I’m [using the toilet].’ ”

It was a great joke for such a precarious moment, and we both had a good laugh. I have to hand it to the rebels. They’ve taken their licks but manage to maintain a pretty good sense of humor.

We drove for the next two hours amid thousands of rebels in pickup trucks and private cars. I have never seen anything like it. The traffic didn’t thin out until we reached Uqaylah, which is a long way from Bin Jawwad.

On the ride out, Mohammed told me a tale from Libyan mythology. The dividing line between eastern and western Libya has been disputed for centuries, he said, going back to the time of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians.

To settle it, the Carthaginians sent a runner from Khoums and the Phoenicians one from Cyrene. They met somewhere near Bin Jawwad, and that’s where the border between west and east came to be. It was the dividing line then, and it is today, physically and psychologically, for the Libyan people. And nothing but the expansive desert seems to ever straddle that line.

See more photos from Libya. Read the full story, “Libyan rebels flee as Kadafi’s forces defend Surt.”

1 Comment

  1. September 5, 2011, 2:01 pm

    Where are the NATO thugs when you need them?


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