Moammar Kadafi’s frontline soldiers are well-fed and well-supplied, even down to the occasional single-serving bottle of Jim Beam.
And many of his troops remain convinced that they are battling foreign extremists seeking to take over Libya.
But some recently captured soldiers are haunted by doubts.
“We talk about whether the war is right,” said a prisoner from a town near the coastal city of Zawiya who was wounded in the frontline town of Kikla in the western mountains of Libya. He spoke on condition that his name not be published for fear of endangering his family.
“We have been talking about whether what we do is right or wrong. But we don’t have any choice.”
Recent battlefield victories by rebels in the Nafusa Mountains have yielded valuable clues about Kadafi’s forces for those seeking to oust the Libyan leader. The finds include notebooks packed with soldiers’ names and identification card numbers, sometimes left behind in hasty retreats.
Rebel soldiers in Nalut discovered kits filled with antidotes to chemical weapons, inspiring fear that Kadafi would be willing to use weapons of mass destruction against his own people to retain power.
“For first aid and self aid to persons injured by nerve and paralyzing war poisons,” says the label on one package.
Military experts say Kadafi retains stockpiles of deadly mustard gas but lacks rockets to deliver it.
Rebels who recently scoured houses in Kikla found abandoned assault rifles that were new and well-maintained, a dismaying indicator of how well-supplied Kadafi forces are.
They also said they found identity papers of fighters from other countries, including Niger, evidence of Kadafi’s recruitment of foreign mercenaries to fightLibyan rebels.
In the town of Rayana, they also discovered bottles of liquor, which strictly observant Muslim rebels consider a sign of moral depravity among Kadafi’s fighters.
But the greatest intelligence finds are the captured soldiers, who often are more than willing to talk once they realize that their captors are Libyans, rather than invading Algerians, Islamic radicals or others.
In addition to sometimes dated battlefield intelligence, prisoners can provide insight to their mood and loyalties.
Col. Mokhtar Milad Fernana, commander of rebel forces in western Libya, says most prisoners claim they wanted to join the opposition at some point. “But they couldn’t because they were afraid they’d be killed by mercenaries,” he said.
The captured soldier from the Zawiya area complained that Kadafi’s soldiers are underpaid; he’s been in Libya’s armed forces since 2004 and has not been able to save enough to get married and start a family.
He said Libyan troops are kept in line by units of the People’s Militia, young toughs often recruited from among the criminal element.
Military leaders, he said, “told us that we were going to fight Al Qaeda, Afghans, Algeria, and that they were using local civilians as human shields.”
Now that he’s seen that they were actually fighting Libyans, he said, he will stay “with [his] brothers until everything is over.”
He may not have a choice; his room at the hospital in Yafran is bolted with a chain and lock.