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Misrata rebels in holding pattern, waiting for help

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Rebels in Misrata told not to advance
  • NEW: An opposition leader says NATO info is "amazing," but more help is needed
  • An opposition fighter says private security forces are expected to aid the rebels
  • Misrata's rebels are told not to advance
  • Commanders are hoping attack helicopters promised by France arrive
  • Libya
  • Misrata

Dafniya, Libya (CNN) -- Moftah Ahmed al-Akrout looks completely out of place walking up and down the front line, shouting at rebel fighters between rapid blasts of heavy arms fire.

At 71 years old, he has made it his personal mission to boost morale on the front lines of Libya's war within.

Al-Akrout is a retired teacher who has decided his new calling is teaching young fighters on the battlefield to believe that they will win.

"I encourage these young people here, asking them to remember God as they fight," he said. "Most of them are my former students. I support them, encourage them and help guide them spiritually."

One of the young men who was there Thursday to hear al-Akrout's cheers died in battle before dawn Friday.

Opposition commanders say they have ordered their fighters on the nearby front lines of Misrata to hold their positions and not to advance. The ragtag fighters on the three front lines surrounding the central Libyan coastal city have been in a holding pattern for weeks.

At this point, they are using all they have to hold off Moammar Gadhafi's forces, which commanders and rebel fighters have seen trying to advance toward the town again.

"Fighting has been intense at times and calm at others," said 23-year-old rebel fighter Hussein Mukthar. "It has been really intense on Fridays. (Gadhafi) uses all types of weapons and tanks that day; last Friday was really exceptional in terms of intensity. (Gadhafi's forces) used tanks, rockets, anti-aircraft weapons, Grad (missiles) -- you name it, they used it!"

Rebel commanders say their fighters cannot take more ground in this area without outside help.

"We can defend our city borders, but we cannot wage an offensive now because we lack much-needed equipment and weapons," said Fathi Ali Bashaagha, the rebels' coordinator with NATO. "Despite our requests, NATO has not supplied us with any assistance on the ground, whether it's equipment, machinery, logistics or weapons. We lack simple yet effective items like military binoculars."

Bashaagha did credit NATO for its "accurate" strikes and said he was "amazed" by the "reliable information" the rebels have gotten from the military alliance. Even so, he expressed hopes that the military alliance will "intensify its campaign and send its attack helicopters to end civilian suffering in Misrata."

Qatari experts are on-site providing military assistance in Benghazi, while citizens from nations such as Morocco and Egypt have joined the fight, the coordinator said. But when asked about reports that security forces directly affiliated with foreign governments -- possibly Western counties -- had arrived on Misrata's front lines for logistical support, he said, "No."

However, Bashaagha did say that although he has not personally seen them, he has heard that private security forces are preparing to help aid the rebels.

"I did hear that there are preparations for foreign companies to come in only for training purposes, And I stress that it is only preparations. They may be Western companies just to train (the rebels)," Bashaagha said in an exclusive interview.

"There are private firms, but I heard they are still preparing to come, so they have not arrived yet in Misrata."

For now, the rebels are using what they have hoping the attack helicopters promised by France will make their way to their front lines.

In the meantime, the battle rages on. At the field hospital less than a 10-minute drive from bunkers made of sand and huge ship containers, volunteer doctors eat a meal and take a break for the first time in days.

Suddenly, the sound of an ambulance sends them running amid the far off booms of incoming fire that sounds a bit like thunder.

With in 30 minutes, two bleeding patients are brought in. They both have several deep shrapnel wounds on several parts of their bodies. Doctors cut their shirts away to reveal the punctures and begin trying to sterilize the wounds with iodine.

One of the patients howls in pain from the pressure being put on his injury, but doctors say the two are lucky: They will both heal.

The doctors wish that were the case for every inured fighter brought to their gurneys.

"Now we are planning to change our clinic to be closer to the front," one doctor said, "because we feel that our patients are arriving late, a little bit. So we try to provide more help to them by receiving them earlier."

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