Jadu, Libya—Yesterday, around 4 p.m., 10 Jadu fighters, who were attempting to cut off the retreat of a column of Qaddafi militiamen, were killed by an errant NATO missile strike near Badr, Libya. Two other fighters are missing. The loss of ten, who included two commanders, is an unimaginable catastrophe in this closeknit town of 10,000 Amazigh or Berber citizens, which until yesterday had lost just 4 men in the revolutionary war.
The cause of the accident was apparently a communications error. The fighters were near a "red zone" where NATO had asked Free Libyan forces not to enter since it was in the process of being cleared of Qaddafi forces. Around dawn on the 17th, the Jadu brigade sent a message to Benghazi, which coordinates with NATO, requesting permission to move forward. But they never received an answer back. Unfortunately, they impetuously decided to go forward anyway.
The fighters were participating in a very large operation involving nearly 1,000 men from the Jadu brigade and several others near Jowsh. This area is en route to Badr, a strategic node in the effort to open the way to the far west coast of Libya. But it is believed that thousands of Qaddafi fighters are in Jumail and other towns just south of the coast. They have been contesting the revolutionaries' capture of Sabratha and Surman, and are expected to fight hard to defend Zwara, the westernmost town in coastal Libya and the gateway to the Tunisian border.
The reaction to the news was immediate in Jadu. Every shop in town was shuttered at a time when locals usually buy food for the Ramadan break-fast. Several hundred Jadu men had gathered around the town’s hospital, occasionally venting their grief by firing weapons. The bodies that were brought here for preparation for Islamic burial were mere parts. By iftar or break-fast, perhaps a hundred cars were parked at the Jadu brigade headquarters at a school on the outskirts of town. Throughout the evening, automatic weapons fire rang out. As Senussi Mohamed, the commander of the Zwara brigade, which has fought alongside Jadu and is based here, put it, "We are grieving our martyrs." He added that this underscored the importance of not doing anything without NATO clearance. He said that he planned to make sure his brigade's vehicles displayed the Free Libya tricolor flag prominently and that each man wore a tricolor hat in what he expects to be a major offensive to recapture his home town, 100 km or so north on the coast.
Today, life seems to have returned to normal here. Aware that the tragedy was in part the result of the unit commander's error, the people of Jadu are hesitant to complain. Some, like Youssef Giadwi, who was a Tripoli banker before the war, don't want to say anything that might cause NATO to delay its bombing campaign.