The common man at arms: Among Libya's rebels

In the battle for Libya, fierce fighting was reported Saturday in a town 50 miles southwest of Tripoli.

The rebels occupy the high ground, and have been forcing Muammar Qaddafi's forces to withdraw in recent days.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports that, from behind the rebel lines in the western mountains, there are some ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.

In the main public square in the town of Jadu, one of a string of rebel-controlled towns up here in Libya's western mountains, the NATO flags are a hint that these aren't normal times.

This is a pretty place with dramatic views down onto the desert floor below. It's even more dramatic these days, because up here may be rebel country. But just out of view in the valley below, Muammar Qaddafi still rules.

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For over a week now, CBS News traveled all over the rebel's patch - a hundred mile stretch of high plateau fringed by steep canyons. Phillips reports that the people here are as rugged as the landscape.

They are Berber people up in the mountains - not Arabs - ethnically different from most of the country and certainly from the ruling elite in Tripoli. And there's no love lost between them. After decades of persecution - and efforts to suppress their language and culture - the mountain clans took a huge risk and joined the anti-Qaddafi rebellion with enthusiasm.

Many, who had fled the regime, came back to fight. Abdul here was away for 13 years.

"I love this soil, man," Abdul says, smiling as he picks up a handful of dirt.

They've armed themselves with weapons they've captured from Qaddafi forces, and tried to keep them working despite a lack of spare parts.

They've used remarkable ingenuity - cannibalizing the rocket launchers off old Libyan air force jets and turning them into ground-attack weapons. On homemade rocket launchers, instead of military-standard igniters, household doorbell buttons will do.

They charge their enemy with a motley collection of old hunting and assault weapons, and use the few larger field pieces they've captured in earlier battles.

Some of them scratch their heads wondering how they got into a mess like this.

"I am a lawyer, a legal advisor. I never have a weapon in my life before. I never expect myself to be in this situation, you know. I am here because I believe in my cause here," says Sofiyan Sasi.

They've been trying to turn themselves into an army. Finding recruits isn't a problem. They're supposed to be at least eighteen, but some do seem younger.

Even if they've never fired a weapon before, even if they admit they're afraid, these rebels say they are fighting for their people and their country and their freedom.

There's bravery here and sacrifice - many have died. And there's a growing realization of something else as well. Many thought Qaddafi would fall quickly in the face of a widespread popular uprising. They don't think that any more.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.