Zimbabwean troops fighting for Gaddafi risk being killed as US mulls air strikes

ZIMBABWEAN troops fighting alongside Libyan forces loyal to Colonel Mammaur Gaddafi risk being killed as the United States government mulls air strikes on their positions to avoid bloodshed in Benghazi, sources revealed.

Zimbabwean troops and Libyan government forces have taken several towns both east and west of Tripoli, the capital, driving out rebel groups that have been calling for foreign military intervention.

The Zimbabwe National Army and its Airforce are heavily involved in the fierce battles between forces loyal to Colonel Mammaur Gaddafi and the rebels forces, sources in the Zimbabwe military intelligence revealed this afternoon.

Libyan government soldiers backed by Zimbabwean troops battled rebels on the road to the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday as the United States raised the possibility of air strikes to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

The sources in Harare also revealed that the President Mugabe has deployed over 500 troops in Libya to back his long time ally Colonel Mammaur Gaddafi.

He also revealed that Zimbabwean State security aids have joined Gaddafi’s female bodyguards, to beef-up security around the eccentric Libyan leader as fears of his assassination mount.

President Robert Mugabe is Gaddafi’s closest ally in Africa, and over the years the embattled Libyan leader has showered his counterpart with donations and subsidised oil shipments. This year, Mugabe’s party Zanu PF received hundreds of tractors and farming equipment to use in election campaigns. 

The African Union Peace and Security Council, a makeshift and largely unknown body in the AU structures, was organised and influenced by Robert Mugabe, after a two-day meeting with junior officers and issued a communiqué on March 11 opposing any foreign military intervention in Libya.

The Robert-Mugabe makeshift AU organ concluded: "The current situation in Libya calls for an urgent African action for the immediate cessation of all hostilities, the cooperation of the competent Libyan authorities to facilitate the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to the needy populations, the protection of foreign nationals, including the African migrants living in Libya, and the adoption and implementation of the political reforms necessary for the elimination of the causes of the current crisis."

Clashes around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town on the coastal highway, hampered the government advance on Benghazi but the army warned citizens it had the city in its sights and people should leave rebel-held locations.

On the approaches to Ajdabiyah, burned out cars could be seen by the roadside while Libyan government forces displayed artillery, tanks and mobile rocket launchers, much heavier weapons than those used by the rebels.

The United States, previously cool on the idea of a foreign military intervention, said the U.N. Security Council should consider tougher action than a no-fly zone over Libya.

"We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in New York.

"The U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone."

Washington had initially reacted cautiously to Arab League and European calls for a no-fly zone over Libya, with some officials concerned it could be militarily ineffective or politically damaging.

"We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in New York late on Wednesday.

"The U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone."

Washington had initially reacted cautiously to Arab League and European calls for a no-fly zone over Libya, with some officials concerned it could be militarily ineffective or politically damaging.

Diplomats at the United Nations told Reuters that the United States, Britain and France now supported the idea of the council authorising military action such as air strikes to protect civilian areas.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped the Security Council would vote "no later than Thursday".

She said Gaddafi seemed determined to kill as many as Libyans as possible, and that "many different actions" were being considered.

Russia, China, Germany, India and other council members are either undecided or have voiced doubts about the proposal for a no-fly zone. Italy, a potential base for military action, ruled out military intervention in the oil-exporting country.

A U.S. official said he could not confirm any discussion of a plan to attack Libyan forces. In theory, he said, military action could be directed not only at Gaddafi’s air force, but at artillery and communications systems too.

The U.S. change appeared to be driven by the worsening plight of the rebels, who are fighting to end 41 years of rule by Gaddafi and have set up a provisional national council in Benghazi.

"If we used force, it would take just a day. But our aim is to progressively dismantle the armed groups, through various means, such as encircling cities or sending negotiators."

But asked if dialogue with the rebels was possible, he repeated his assertion that they were linked to the al Qaeda Islamic militant organisation.

"These are not people with whom we aim to talk to as al-Qaeda does not talk with anybody."

On the fate of the rebel leadership, he said: "It is quite possible they will flee. Anyway, it’s not really a structure. It has no value."

A statement on Al-Libya state television told people in Benghazi that the army was on its way.

"It urges you to keep out by midnight of areas where the armed men and weapon storage areas are located," it said.

Benghazi residents poured scorn on the announcement and said the city was quiet.

One civilian reached by phone from Tobruk, Hisham Mohammed, said: "People are okay here. There is a bit of tension, a little fear of air strikes but most people are fine."

Three warplanes flew over Benghazi airport on Wednesday, witnesses said. An airport employee named Abdallah said one dropped a bomb that left a crater near the airport but did no other damage.

Aid agencies the International Committee of the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres have withdrawn their workers from Benghazi due to safety concerns.

CLASHES ON BENGHAZI, TOBRUK ROADS

The exact state of affairs in Abdabiyah, 150 km (90 miles) south of Benghazi on the Gulf of Sirte, was unclear on Thursday morning. Parts of it appeared to have changed hands several times in the past 48 hours, a recurring feature of the war over the towns strung along the North African coast.

Osama Jazwi, a Benghazi doctor, said that when he left Ajdabiyah late on Wednesday, rebels controlled the city and fighting was still going on.

At one point, Gaddafi’s forces had cut the road from Adjabiyah to Tobruk but then rebels cleared them from it.

But another civilian in Benghazi, who asked not to be named, said Ajdabiyah has fallen.

"I know people there. There are many people leaving Ajdabiyah, coming through Benghazi and heading for the border."

Bernard-Henri Levy, a French intellectual who returned from a mission to liaise with the rebel leadership, said it was already too late for a no-fly zone.

"We should have done that eight days ago…Today we have to block the assault marching towards Benghazi which will launch a bloodbath. There are 1 million people who believed the Western promises who said Gaddafi is no longer legitimate," he said.

Gaddafi will take a vicious revenge on the Libyan people who "made him look like a clown", he said in France.

Meanwhile, in the last few weeks, whether he is under siege or on the offensive, the embattled Libyan dictator has been surrounded by his female bodyguards, also known as his Amazonian guard. Or, sometimes, his revolutionary nuns.

The Amazonian guards are being assisted by Zimbabwean State security agents from the highly regarded, Zimbabwe Presidential guards.

Since the early 1970s, an eye-popping cadre of 30 women have shadowed and at times taken bullets for the man who is today, at 68, the Arab world’s most senior dictator.

The women pledge oaths of loyalty to Gaddafi, including a vow of virginity, according to reports. The female bodyguards are not just for show. In 1998, one died and two were injured when Gaddafi was attacked.

It’s a dangerous job and yet for most of the four decades that they have stood by Gaddafi, they have seemed as much his statement on style and gender politics as his security detail.

Decked in 1990s-style camouflage, nail polish, thick mascara, and Nancy Sinatra warboots, the nuns flank this flamboyant world leader who packs Bedouin tents and home-tailored boubous whenever he travels abroad.

"Having female bodyguards is just one of his things," said Mohammed el Katiri, Libya analyst for the global risk think tank Eurasia Group. "It’s difficult to give a rational explanation for it, apart from that he always likes to be seen as different."

But as is often the case with Gaddafi, there might be a certain shrewd self-preservation behind the madness.

Since seizing power handily in a bloodless 1969 coup, Gaddafi has gradually subdivided the nation’s army into a kaleidoscope of colourful units, "people’s militias," secret service forces, and undercover ops. His defence forces have famously deployed terrorists, like Abdelbaset Megrahi, convicted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Less famously, Gaddafi has played host to a litany of African rebels, from Liberian warlord Charles Taylor to Laurent Kabila, the Che Guevara apprentice who brought an end to Mobotu Sese Seko’s 32-year reign over the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Last month, Al Jazeera reported that Gaddafi was offering Nigerian and Guinean mercenaries $2,000 a day to defend his embattled revolutionary state.

In many ways, Katiri said Gaddafi is just carrying on Libyan tradition. The kings and sultans who ruled the land of complex loyalties and overlapping states survived in power by importing mercenaries, pitting generals against one another, and estranging royal guards from their ancestral homes.

"In this country where you have various allegiances and different tribes, you cannot rely on your army," Katiri said. "You have to find some other people who have no attachment to the place."

Been pushing him hard lately to take the family leadership. He is responding well.

But this former junior officer may have a more nostalgic reason for placing his endangered life in the arms of women.

His mother, he once told a Canadian journalist, was an archer.