Libya: Rebels Have Weapons, But Do They Know How to Use Them?

by John Rosenthal

Yesterday, the French daily Le Figaro revealed that France has been air-dropping armaments to Libyan rebel forces to the south of Tripoli in the Nafusa mountain region. The weaponry reportedly includes machine guns, assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, and rocket launchers. (For further details, see my article here.) But a report today in the daily Libération gives reason to wonder if the rebels have the training necessary to use the weapons that they have been given.

Reporting from the Nafusa mountains, correspondent Luc Mathieu describes watching a rebel fighter named Mohammed al-Ajeli loading rockets into a rocket-launcher on the back of a pick-up truck and then pointing the back of the pick-up toward the Libyan government stronghold of Gawalesh. Mathieu’s account continues as follows:

A teenager started the firing mechanism by pressing down on a yellow plastic box, like those one sees on construction sites. Three rockets went off amidst a deafening noise. Mohammed climbed backed up on to the pickup in order to re-direct the rocket launcher. He did not have time to move away. Three more rockets went off. He was thrown five meters. Still conscious, he rolled on the ground screaming. His fatigues, which bore the colors of the Netherlands, were burned. The skin on the right side of his face was scraped raw, with pearls of blood forming on it.

Mathieu reports that the immediate aim of the rebel forces is to capture the strategic city of Bir Al-Ghanam on the road to Tripoli. This is also notable, since at the U.N. yesterday, French ambassador Gérard Araud insisted that the French arms shipments did not constitute a violation of a U.N. arms embargo, explaining, “We decided to provide self-defensive weapons to the civilian populations because we consider that these populations were under threat.” One may also wonder how the French know that the rebel artillery being fired in the general direction of Gawalesh is not itself threatening or killing civilians.

According to an unnamed French official cited in Wednesday’s report in Le Figaro, the ultimate aim of the French strategy is to facilitate a rebel assault on Tripoli from the south.

— John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at or on Facebook.

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