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.”