Libyan military operations are all about Kikla and Benghazi front-lines. However, the future of Libya could be decided in the so-called T Zone, 80 kilometres north-east of Zintan and 50 kilometres south of Zawia. It was retaken last week by Zawia brigades, which support Libyan Dawn. Zawia’s fighters, civilians, businessmen – even Bengladeshis working in the town – are involved in trying to keep hold of the T Zone.
“The fighting is now taking place 10 kilometres further west. We have hundreds of fighters there,” Zawia commander Hamdi Al-Beshti told Libya Herald to the sound of distant “Dababas” (tanks) blasting away.
Beshti said his mission was clear: to hold the T Zone until the arrival of expected reinforcements from Misrata and then launch an offensive against Zintan.
The area, a few kilometres east of Bir Ghanem, is called the T Zone because it is an intersection between the road linking Zawia to south and the one connecting Aziziya and Yefren.
The military situation is problematic, says Beshti. First of all, most Libyan Dawn forces are fighting in Kikla (although the Zintanis again claim to have taken it, having allegedly pulled out their forces south of the mountains last week for the final assault).
Secondly, the T Zone is the last main intersection before the Jebel Nafusa where the battle will be much more difficult for his men.
Finally, Beshti and his men know very well the enemy. They fought side-by-side during the 2011 revolution. “I feel sorry for them. The Zintanis have changed their minds,” he says. “They are fighting with the Qaddafists. Maybe they’re doing it for the money”, he adds, repeating the usual argument used by Libyan Dawn to justify fighting Zintan.
Beshti’s men are Libyan Dawn’s frontline military forces. But it is thanks to their rear lines that they accomplish their mission.
150 kilos of meat and 120 kilos of pasta a day
Food is prepared only 25 kilometres north of the T Zone in a warehouse, which is being provided by a Zawia food supplier. Dozens of Zawia men, from 10 years of age to 80, cook for the fighters. “We can cook around 150 kilos of meat and 120 kilos of pasta a day”, one of the cooks told the Libya Herald. Three large pots and a giant oil pan full of chips are cooking on one side of the warehouse. In the other, there is a chain of men chopping up salads by hand. “It is like a party here. Everybody is happy to help”, Adnan Al-Dib said. The atmosphere is cheerful and far from a disciplined military organisation.
“The government [that of Omar Al-Hassi] gives us military clothes but the rest, such as the food, comes from ordinary people – businessmen mainly” Beshti says.
Zawia’s businessmen appear very committed to help the fighters, as in 2011. For instance, a cleaning company “gave” five Bangladeshi workers to the fighters to clean the “kitchen”, as the warehouse is nicknamed.
Al-Hadi Khashoush, 85, is the oldest Zawia volunteer cook. He was a soldier during Chad war: “I know Hafter from that time. He is a bad man. He is responsible for having killed a lot of Libyans. Now, I’m here to free Libya, to end the revolution.”
Relying on local solidarity, not national help
The fighters rely more on local help than from the Hassi administration.
“[Abdussalam Jadallah] Al-Obeidi is the Chief-of-Staff, but the military decisions are taken by commanders who are on the frontline. In Zawia, there are about 30 fighting units, so 30 commanders. And you have to add Sorman, Al-Harsha, etc. These commanders are the real decision makers in the field” a fighter told this newspaper. For many Zawia residents, the fight is as a local war abut control of territory, first of all against Warshefana then Zintan. That is why the whole city seems so involved.
“No Daesh, no Al-Qaeda, no Ansar Al-Sharia in Zawia”
Ahmed (who do not give his full name) says he wants to make very clear that what is happening in the T Zone has nothing to do with international issues or even with other parts of the country. “In Zawia there is no Daesh, no Al-Qaeda, no Ansar Al-Sharia (Hassi’s government does not accept that Ansar Al-Sharia as a terrorist group). We are normal Libyans and normal Muslims. We are not terrorists! Zawia is completely different from Benghazi,” he insists.
Like many towns in Libya, Zawia is conservative, although its former GNC member Mohamed al-Kilani, who was killed while fighting against the Warshefana, and who at one point wanted to segregate men and women inside the Congress, was seen as being on the militant and extremist edge of conservatism. There are also those in the town who are deeply unhappy with the present polarisation in the country. But as elsewhere in Libya, it is local rivalries – in this case against the Warshefana and Zintan – that drive political views.
This article was originally published here.