BEIDA - Their eyes are smiling. The calculations were correct and the missile sank into the sea, five kilometers (3.1 miles) from shore. It has been an unforgettable day for the Benghazi rebels. Hopefully it will not be needed, but the mere fact that they have created a missile launcher that can fire its deadly load up to 21.4 km (13.2 miles) away has boosted morale. Over the past four days, they have built ten, and now the rebels military strategists will have to decide whether to position the missiles as defenses for Benghazi, or to use them on the battlefield.
In a warehouse on the outskirts of Beida, a city a few hours by car from Benghazi, master locksmith Colonel Smith is at work. The warehouse has been transformed into a weapons factory. Colonel Smith and Omar, an electrician, are proud of their work because the test-run of the prototype they invented was a great success. They have created this arsenal of sophisticated weapons with recycled material.
Their creation is a light missile launcher with a range of 21.4 kilometers, mounted on a pickup truck so it can be transported easily. Colonel Smith (a nickname taken from one of the protagonists of the A-Team television series) proudly shows off his recently-finished prototype: a pickup on which he has mounted the base of a machine gun and four three-meter long tubes capable of firing ammunition. Omar the electrician explains how he invented a system of connecting tubes with a manual switch, as a substitute for sophisticated computers, to launch the missiles singly or in succession.
This battery is from 1975, Colonel Smith explains. It is capable of launching its missiles in 20 seconds. In a situation of close combat, such as urban guerrilla warfare, it is complicated to move a heavy truck. By building an agile firing point like a modified pick-up truck, you can move the vehicle quickly once the missiles have been launched to avoid becoming an enemy target.
Colonel Smith is not some type of Libyan Rambo. He has a relaxed air, a beard and wears mechanics overalls. The production line, consisting of eight welders for four pick-ups at a time, only stops at prayer time. Muammed is the driver of the pick-up, and demonstrates its features. It is armored, weighs four tons and has three self-defense systems. It emits smoke, Muammad explains, gives an electric shock to anyone who approaches it, and shoots nails on the road.
Listening to the rebels talk, it could be one of James Bonds cars. Gaddafi used it in the past to suppress demonstrations, for example in Derna, where they followed, ran down and killed two protestors. In the space of four days, Colonel Smith has delivered his first ten light missile launchers. He is proud of his work. Now hes waiting for the Libyan National Council, the interim self-governing organism of liberated Libya, to answer that ever important tactical question: position the prized new hardware to defend Benghazi, or take them to the frontline?
photo - (Al Jazeera)