Libyan army collapses, defectors set up command

Thursday, February 24, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

CAIRO Defecting units from the Libyan Army have established a command to topple the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Opposition sources said scores of Army and air defense units formed a rebel command to protect eastern cities from Gadhafi forces. They said the units were disciplined and well-stocked with weapons and equipment.

"They are trying to convince the others to join them," Lt. Col. Omar Hamza, a senior air defense officer, said.

It is unclear how many members of the military were still fighting for Gadhafi. The sources said 90 percent of the military had either joined the revolt or was no longer active.

"The army in the east is with all the people," Maj. Salma Issa, based in Tobruk, said.

The Air Force was also said to have largely slipped out of Gadhafi's control. The sources reported increased incidents of defections and refusal to obey orders for fighter-jets to attack civilians.

The sources said Gadhafi has been bolstered by thousands of mercenaries, many of them from Africa and the former Soviet Union. They said most of them were based in Tripoli, where they were organized in militias.

On Feb. 24, pro-regime militias battled rebel forces in Zawiya, 50 kilometers from Tripoli. The Libyan news agency Qureyna reported at least 23 dead in Zawiya, located near oil refineries and under rebel control.

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