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NPR News

Libya's Rebels Battle Their Own Inexperience

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Rebel fighters are now stalled in stretch of desert outside the oil port town of Brega. NPR's Eric Westervelt is in eastern Libya and joins us on satellite phone. Eric, thanks for being with us.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And tell us about the rebel fighters. Any signs they're getting a little bit better organized and trained?

WESTERVELT: But it's still very much a work in progress. I mean, that's sort of - the day starts out with them trying to better organized and disciplined, but usually when they come under fire, Scott, then that discipline, you know, often breaks down and people panic and retreat, and we're not seeing any real fundamental change there in terms of their battle tactics.

SIMON: Any new weaponry?

WESTERVELT: You know, we are seeing some new communications gear among some of the rebels on the frontlines. We're seeing some new rockets. It appears that some of the army forces that defected to the revolution early on are now bringing out some more of their bigger firepower, rockets and such. They've had rockets all along, but it appears they're now bringing more to the front and using them more, yes.

SIMON: The papers here in the U.S. and the UK this weekend are using words like stalemate and impasse in talking about the limits of western air power. I'm wondering what that looks like to the rebels you're with. Do they - are they beginning to talk in terms of a stalemate?

WESTERVELT: I mean, they've made almost no sustained progress. And these towns, Scott, that they're trying to take are tiny, rural, lightly-populated, really now deserted areas and flat open desert terrain. And if they can't these towns, you know, one really wonders how they'll be able to fight their way into these bigger, more densely populated, better protected urban areas such as Serte and Misrata, and of course their big goal, and their big prize, the capital, Tripoli. It just seems a long way off now.

SIMON: The United States announced this week that NATO allies are in charge now of any air strikes, and that the U.S. is going to play a visibly smaller role. And I'm wondering how that affects the rebels.

WESTERVELT: So the air strikes near the front have stalled much to the rebels disappointment, and there is some concern among rebels I've talked to, that now with NATO in charge that NATO may be less aggressive in going after some of Gadhafi's units away from populated areas.

SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt in eastern Libya. Thanks for being with us, Eric.

WESTERVELT: Thank you, Scott Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.