Back on the road today. And what a familiar road it is. Back in March my fixer, Tam, and I drove up and down the Benghazi to Tripoli road umpteen times charting the rebels’ rapid advances followed by equally rapid retreats. On my first day I made it as far as Ras Lanuf, only for it to fall the next day. The final trip took me back there, as they retook the town. Before, inevitably losing it a few days later.
And then again today, I was in Ras Lanuf – a neat little town of palm tree-lined streets, filled with homes of oil workers, employed at the nearby refinery – a day after opposition fighters had recaptured it.
The road was much the same as I remembered it: Long, straight and dusty. Once again rebels were hitching rides to get to a rapidly moving front. Only this time their vehicles were more impressive. Gone the battered old taxis. Now they have smart Chevrolet 4x4s and natty desert jeeps: “The gift of Qatar” as one driver told me.
But after advancing swiftly as far as Bin Jawad it seems they have come up against heavy resistance, stalling their march on Sirte. Every few minutes a new volley of Grad rockets was launched into the air, describing a fiery arc as they roared away into the sky towards Gaddafi positions. Seconds later came the boom as they slammed into their targets.
For now, rather than melt away, regime loyalists seem to be giving as good as they get. Pickups arrived in a steady stream at the town’s little hospital dropping off wounded rebels. Every now and again gunfire would mark the arrival of a “martyr”.
The rebels may have the momentum across Libya, but the war in the east goes on.