Rebels die as victims of their own disarray

Fifteen killed when coalition planes interpreted gunshot celebrations as anti-aircraft fire

The rebel fighters were celebrating "victory" in their usual wasteful way, loosing off round after round into the air, using up ammunition in short supply. But this time it was a suicidal mistake: seconds later their vehicles, and an ambulance parked near by, were destroyed in an attack arriving with shattering explosions.

Air strikes had been carried out by a pilot from the international coalition who then thought an anti-aircraft barrage was being directed at him. Fifteen people, including three members of medical staff, were killed instantly when the warplane, believed to be an A-10 Tankbuster, responded with its devastating firepower.

These were the second set of "collateral casualties" in two days: eight others died in another bombing aimed at a regime convoy passing through the village of Argobe, near Ajdabiya. It ignited ammunition, spraying shrapnel into nearby houses. Four of those killed were female, including three girls aged 12 to 16 from the same family; two others were teenage boys.

The still chaotic conduct of the rebel military campaign contributed to the fatalities on Friday evening on the road to Brega, the city that the opposition is trying to wrest from Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Belatedly, the volunteer rebel fighters, known as the Shabaab, who had fired at least four times as much ordnance commemorating often imaginary "triumphs", as they fired in anger, had been told to desist and conserve ammunition. They had also been warned about precisely what happened with the international coalition flying the only planes in the sky.

The Gaddafi regime yesterday sought to use the "friendly fire" to their advantage. The state-controlled television channel announced that a large number of civilians had been killed by the West.

In Tripoli, Mussa Ibrahim, a regime spokesman, decrying the "illegal attack", said: "Some mad and criminal ministers and presidents of Europe are leading a crusade against an Arab Muslim nation. Sounds familiar? It's a crime against humanity."

On the ground, Gaddafi troops tried to use the position where the attack had taken place to their tactical advantage. As a crowd of rebel fighters and journalists gathered, a salvo of mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades landed.

The protest movement's provisional government described the deaths on the Brega road as an "unfortunate mistake". Spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said: "You have to look at the big picture. Mistakes will happen. We are trying to get rid of Gaddafi and there will be casualties, although, of course, it does not make us happy. We are pleased to see the Nato forces doing what they are assigned to do – protecting civilians, enforcing a ceasefire and creating a situation to allow peaceful protests."

But in the characteristically fanciful version of events provided by the Shabaab, a spokesman claimed it was all part of a cunning regime plot. According to Mustafa Ali Omar: "Some of Gaddafi's forces sneaked in among the rebels and fired anti-aircraft guns in the air. After that, Nato came and bombed them."

Captain Rahim Mohammed Fatousi, an army officer who defected to the revolution, shrugged "It is very difficult with the Shabaab: they were told many times to leave because we knew the coalition was going to carry out air attacks. But these people have support from some of the political factions in Benghazi who want to use their influence through them. We shall continue to try and have some discipline into this operation."

There were discernible signs of more efficiency at the front line, where former military personnel took over command from the Shabaab. General Bashir Abu-Gadr, who has gained a reputation as one of the few able commanders in the rebel ranks, left his hospital bed, where he was receiving treatment for battlefield injuries, to take charge of the operation to capture two oil ports, Brega and Ras Lanuf.

And, for the first time since the conflict began, the two most senior officers in the revolutionary forces, General Abdel-Fatah Youni and General Khalifa Haftar, visited the front line.

On Friday evening, after coalition air strikes, rebel forces entered a university complex on the outskirts of Brega where they were ambushed by regime troops and withdrew after losing a number of men. There was a second probe towards the city, during which rebel officers could be seen using communications equipment and receiving instructions.

General Abu-Gadr yesterday refused to discuss the extent of his liaison with foreign military advisers. "I was told that they were going to provide us with better weapons. But that has not happened," he said. "We are using weapons captured from the government and also equipment from arms storage places we know about. I would rather have weapons, but I will take advice if it is free."

The rebel manoeuvres on the front line on Friday had showed an element of organisation hitherto missing. Former soldiers carried out efficient flanking moves, and, when the regime forces opened fire, they did not break and run as the Shabaab fighters have done repeatedly.

By yesterday, however, this had frayed. The Shabaab, as well as unarmed civilians, were allowed access to the front line and the result was seen in the retreat from the scene of the "friendly fire" when the Shabaab began to shoot in panic at their own side – rebel military moving along the desert – and even others fleeing behind them. Later, another retreat followed when a "volunteer", a 17-year-old who had decided to observe the fighting while his school remains shut, mistook some local farmers for undercover Gaddafi troops.

While there had been no pause in the fighting despite reports of a possible ceasefire, regime troops have made no advance towards Ajdabiya, the next city after Brega, in the past few days. One view is that the regime may settle for holding the line there and at the town of Ras Lanuf, which lies beyond both oil ports, rather than risk having its supply lines hit from the air by moving further eastwards.

The rebels, on the other hand, would like to retake Brega and Ras Lanuf before any ceasefire comes into effect without trying to move any further westwards. During a number of skirmishes, in the towns of Bin Jawad and Nawfiliya, local men had fought against the rebels. In the complex dynamics of Libyan politics, with its tribal influence, the regime is not without its supporters.

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit