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Libya's western rebels run tighter operation than eastern brethren

In the remote mountains of western Libya, the rebels have moved beyond the 'rag-tag' militia label often used to characterize the opposition in the east.

Antigovernment rebels fighting Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi look north at enemy positions over the escarpment as they consolidate military gains at the western end of the Nafusa mountain range near Nalut, Libya, on April 27.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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The signs of sharp rebel organization are everywhere in Libya’s remote western mountains, contrasting with the rag-tag nature of their rebel brethren who control eastern Libya.

This group of isolated anti-Qaddafi rebels appears to have learned from early mistakes, fine-tuning everything from fueling procedures to battle tactics.

Battlewagons smeared with sand for camouflage need a fuel chit from the local “military council” to collect gas. Defenses designed to thwart troops loyal to Col. Muammar Qaddafi are multilayered and include well-placed antitank ditches, earthen barriers, and preplaced trailers to block roads.

Food, water, and fuel supplies enter from a critical border crossing with Tunisia captured by the rebels on April 21. The medical infrastructure is so well honed that critical battlefield casualties are often whisked to Tunisia – sometimes along smuggler routes.

The rebels who control this 90-mile Nafusah Mountain range also have new Inmarsat satellite telephone handsets, widely believed to have been supplied by Qatar, as well as some new body armor.

Unlike the rebels in the east, those in these mountains are rarely seen to fire their weapons in the air in celebration; commanders have pointed out that every round fired in the sky is one that can't target a pro-Qaddafi soldier.

Vulnerabilities on the battlefield

Video footage of one battle last week showed rebels engaged in a multipronged strike in which they captured a village, killed several Qaddafi loyalists, and suffered few losses.

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