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Libya's forgotten frontline

The frontline west of Ajdabia in eastern Libya has been sealed off for the past month, with only military traffic allowed into the area, however an Al Jazeera team was given exclusive and this is what they found.
Last modified: 18 May 2011 23:48

It is a point of conflict in recent weeks has faded from international focus.

Yet three months after the uprising began, opposition forces and those loyal to Muammer Gaddafi are still facing each other across a stretch of sandy no-man's land some 30km west of Ajdabia.  

In recent weeks the opposition forces have tightly controlled access to the frontline in the east of Libya. 

Commanders on the ground wary of the real time live coverage that at one point they believe threatened their operational security. 

An Al Jazeera team was granted access to the area at the invitation of the Az Zawiyah Brigade, which has been at the forefront of the conflict since the beginning of this revolution.

Ninety per cent of the brigade are volunteers, some retired army officers who returned to service, but the vast majority those who at the beginning of the year were civilians going about their normal lives.

Morale in the unit remains high.

We spoke to Issa Gabsi, one of the few men with real military experience. 

He has been wounded and evacuated twice, each time returning to the frontline as soon as possible. 

"It is important for those with military experience to return to the fight and help the people," he says simply.

One of the field commanders is Colonel Adil Geriani - a soft-spoken man with a ready smile and love of country music. 
He says he feels no hatred to those still supporting Gaddafi, but cannot understand why they are doing so.

"If I could just talk to them," he says gesturing across the expanse of no-mans land, "I would explain that we should all be on one side, that of Libya."

During the several hours we spent in the area there were repeated artillery barrages some 7km to the west.

Plumes of smoke discernable on the horizon, evidence that despite the threat of NATO air attacks the Gaddafi forces are still able to fire at will.

Opposition commanders tell us that they believe the Gaddafi troops are being reinforced, and new weapons are being deployed - in particular an extremely precise guided anti-tank missile they believe could be a Milan system (a sophisticated and deadly piece of weaponry).

There is among these opposition troops too a sense of deep frustration that much needed supplies are not being delivered.

There are no signs of the new communication systems and body armour that various countries had said they would provide. 

Questions here as well about the priorities of the civilian authorities back in Benghazi.

"We went to collect three new vehicles that had been earmarked for us last week," one of the commanders said. "We only got two because one had been appropriated by a National Transitional Council official."

This was placed in a stark context when we saw newly recruited volunteers arriving at the frontline on foot. There were no vehicles available to transport them from Ajdabia 10km away.

The Az Zawiyah Brigade has taken large numbers of casualties. 

Seven men were killed in a single missile strike earlier this month, among them a senior field commander, Hussein Al Awami. 

He was by all accounts not only respected, but also deeply liked by his men.

The day before he was killed he recorded a video message on a mobile phone in the field, leaping on to his vehicle he looks straight at the camera and says: "We are descendants of lions, at peace we are generous but at war we are fire and fury."

As we drive away, they are words that still seem to echo in the sands of this frontline.