In the fitful civil war that has begun in eastern Libya, the rebels suffered their first big setback today at the hands of Muammar Qaddafi’s forces. After seizing the coastal oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf—and downing a fighter jet yesterday—the rebels Saturday night believed themselves to be on the road to victory. This morning, they pushed on, attempting to move into Bin Jawad, the next town to the west.
They had entered Bin Jawad Saturday, but had found it empty, and had left it unoccupied. Sunday, however, they encountered serious resistance, and after an all-day battle involving as many retreats—perhaps ten—as advances, they had lost Bin Jawad. By sundown, six men had died in the rearguard hospital at Ras Lanuf, amid scenes of deep emotion, and about seventy were wounded. The doctors, volunteers who had rushed in from Benghazi last night, said that they expected more of them to die. Two reporters—a Frenchman and an American—were shot as well, but only wounded slightly, with leg wounds from bullets.
For me, and for several colleagues, the morning began with an aerial bombardment at the fighter-crowded crossroads outside Ras Lanuf, where we had spent the night. We were a few hundred yards away when a jet dove, and the bomb hit—a dud, evidently, for there was a great cloud of dirt and dust, but no fireball, and, thankfully, no casualties, so far as we knew. We then advanced in several cars towards Bin Jawad amid a pack of technical vehicles and jeeps and pickups driven at high speeds by the rebel fighters, who goaded one another along with calls of “Allahu Akbar” and victory signs. Five miles from the town, a helicopter appeared in the sky, provoking panic and headlong flight back toward the Ras Lanuf intersection, where the fighters began opening up with their anti-aircraft batteries—there, they pointed, was the helicopter. It had held its distance, however, and flew high and seemed to be hugging the coast, perhaps a mile or two away. It did not fire.
Sounds pretty chaotic.. ripe for a takeover by a more organised force... is the Egyptian Army in a fit state to take advantage?