REFILE-Libya rebels up for fight but where are the bullets?

Tue Aug 2, 2011 11:48am EDT

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(Refiles to remove extra dateline)

* Poised for assault on key town, but lack bullets

* Rebels pass time cleaning guns waiting for ammunition

By Michael Georgy

KABAW, Libya, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Libyan rebels surrounding Muammar Gaddafi's last major stronghold in the Western Mountains region are hungry for the kill. There's just one problem -- not enough ammunition.

After weeks of planning, the rebels launched a new offensive in the region, capturing several towns and villages. But the biggest prize, Tiji, remains elusive for a simple reason fighters like Jumaa Muhammad are all too familiar with.

"We could not go any further. We ran out of ammunition," said Muhammad, who took on soldiers with heavy weapons with only 28 bullets for his AK-47 assault rifle.

"Who knows when more will arrive?"

The rebels of Libya's Western Mountains have plenty of spirit and determination. But frustrations are rising over inadequate supplies, inferior weapons and what they call neglect by the West.

Capturing Tiji would be a major boost for the rebels, who in this part of Libya, at least, appear to have managed to set aside factionalism and ethnic differences to coordinate a major assault.

Control of Tiji could give rebels access to a highway to that leads to Tripoli. They encircled Tifi days ago had to put the brakes on the operation when there was little left to fire at government forces, and have since been unable to advance.

Muhammad and other fighters unleashed their weapons, then had to retreat to a mountain ridge where they keep a close eye on Tiji from a tiny cement lookout post in the town of Kabaw.

Rebels pass the time cleaning their weapons, or chatting, until fresh ammunition arrives, hoping Gaddafi's men don't fire more Grad missiles at them from Tiji.

About 25 pound the earth a few feet away every day, a reminder of the army's superior firepower.

Because they lack experience, rebels often fire off many rounds in all directions during battles, instead of choosing targets carefully, wasting bullets in the process.

Ammunition from fellow rebels in the east of Libya comes only about once a month, so they have to improvise to survive.

"It's taking too long to get ammunition. Units from different villages have to borrow ammunition from each other because there is not enough to go around," said Tarek Zanbou, a former intelligence officer under Gaddafi who joined the rebel movement.

He and other rebel officials don't understand why NATO doesn't step up air strikes to help the rebels.

"Yesterday hundreds of Gaddafi's men were on a main street in Tiji. We gave them (NATO) the coordinates and they didn't do anything," he said.

Rebels firmly believe that "God is on our side" in the war against Gaddafi. But few believe victory will be possible without the bare essentials, like bullets.

"We just won't be able to reach Tripoli if this keeps happening," said rebel Muhammad Ramadan, as he walked past a mangled piece of metal from one of Gaddafi's rockets on the mountain ridge and a wall drawing calling for a free Libya.

(Editing by David Lewis and Mark Heinrich) (editing by Mark Heinrich)

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