‘Suddenly bullets were flying through the crowd’
In Libya, the battle of Benghazi is about to begin. What is the role of the war reporters in creating 'the first rough draft of history'?
At Ajdarbia, a small town on the Libyan coast, the rebels waited to make their stand. Ahead of them, marked by the crump of falling shells, lay the front line, where tanks and artillery loyal to the Libyan dictator, Colonel Gaddafi, were advancing steadily across the desert.
Behind them, only 90 miles along the main road, was Benghazi – the largest city in Libya's east, and capital of the temporary rebel government. If Ajdarbia fell, the road to Benghazi would be open.
And so the rebels prepared for battle. Most were young Libyans, those who had protested against Gaddafi back in February. When Gaddafi's men started shooting at demonstrators, these young men took up weapons to fight back.
Others came from further afield. Anthony Loyd, a reporter for The Times of London, met a British-Libyan from Manchester in Ajdarbia's dusty streets. Carrying a surface-to-air missile on his shoulder he laughed as he walked towards the front.
No one could doubt the rebels' courage. A doctor who flew from Canada to help their efforts described a 16-year-old boy, who lost a leg in the fighting. 'For freedom,' the boy said, 'I would lose the other.'
But confronted by Gaddafi's disciplined troops, the poorly armed and untrained rebel fighters stand little chance. Loyd was having lunch in the town's main square when loyalist soldiers arrived. Soon, ragged columns of rebel vehicles were retreating from advanced positions on Ajdarbia's outskirts.
In the square, there was a buzz of activity. Fighters clutching rifles ran to and fro, some frightened, some angry. One man stood crying on his own. The loudspeakers of a nearby mosque blared into life, repeating the call, 'Allahu akbar' – 'God is great.'
The sound of the bombardment got louder, and suddenly bullets were flying through the crowd. Loyalist snipers had taken up positions on nearby rooftops and the rebels scattered, running for their lives as shells smashed into nearby buildings.
By yesterday morning, Ajdarbia had fallen. Now, Gaddafi's soldiers are poised to strike at the heart of the Libyan rebellion. Libya's state TV station has been calling all troops to join the final assault on Benghazi itself.
Saif al Gaddafi, the dictator's son, said that the rebellion would be crushed 'within 48 hours.' The UN Security Council will meet to discuss ways of helping the rebels. But 'whatever decision is taken,' said Gaddafi's son, 'it will be too late.'
- How would you feel if you had to fight against tanks and bombs?
- Are war correspondents brave – or foolish?
- Imagine you were a reporter on the front lines of the Libyan rebellion. Write a news story for tomorrow's papers about your experiences.
- Many people think Western countries should intervene to help the rebels. Others think the Libyan war is none of our business. Make a speech arguing for one side or the other.
Some People Say...
“War correspondents have the world's best job.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What are Western journalists doing so close to the front lines?
- They're war correspondents – specialist journalists who travel around the world reporting from battles and danger zones. They are a colourful, hardened group, who've often been doing it for years.
- It sounds like a dangerous job!
- It is – very. An Al Jazeera correspondent has been killed in Libya already, and a Guardian reporter was captured by Gaddafi's forces.
- So why would anyone do it?
- Well, it's exciting, interesting work, which takes you to the heart of the action. Famous people like Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway made names for themselves as war correspondents.
- Anything else?
- It's also important. Correspondents on the ground can bear witness to what happens in times of war. The Libyan rebels may not win, but they won't be forgotten.