Libya's rebel fighters forge unified command

BENGHAZI, Libya, July 12, 2011 (AFP) - Libya's ragtag rebels said they had moved a step closer to becoming a coherent military force on Tuesday, as they announced a unified command structure for the first time.

After more than four months of battle against strongman Moamer Kadhafi's regime, fighters from the volunteer brigades said they would now fall under the command of the minister of defence, Jalal al-Digheily.

"Now the national army and the union of revolutionary forces, have come under the ministry of defence," said Fawzy Bokatif a rebel commander.

"This union comprises all the revolutionary forces which are present at the front lines," he added.

The consolidation of revolutionary fighters and ex-Kadhafi forces under one command could end the type of ad-hoc attacks and poor coordination that has cost the rebels dearly in blood and munitions.

National Transitional Council insiders and diplomats from NATO countries have long complained that generals in Benghazi and fighters on the front line have poor communications and divergent tactics.

NATO has often gone straight to fighters on the ground for information about enemy positions and rebels' own force posture, bypassing Benghazi altogether.

Bokatif said he hoped the unification would help push the rebels toward Tripoli, help support the National Transitional Council and control the spread of arms.

"There is a coherence between the two and the defence minister has full control between those two armies," he said.

But there were also signs of lingering mistrust between the largely youthful revolutionaries and the career soldiers -- many of whom serve commanders who had been close to Kadhafi until recently.

"Each group of revolutionary forces in each area do have the initiative to... operate," said rebel field commander Abdul Jawad.

"They are actually operating independently. It is not a structured military operation in the sense that they take their commands from central command."

Asked if the revolutionary forces fighting in the west had agreed to better coordination with troops in the east, Jawad replied: "Just about."

But the move is the latest in a series of steps taken by rebels to create a better fighting force, after beefing up training and securing more and better arms from France, Qatar and elsewhere.

Ismail Al-Salabi, commander of the February 17 Brigade, said those improvements had made advances possible in the coming days, after weeks of stalemate on the eastern front.

"The reason that we stood in the Brega area is for organisational and tactical reasons and to solidify the front line."

Now, he said, "our objective is Tripoli."

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