Major Sack Excerpt
by Geraldo Rivera | Feb 21, 2016
Most of the ‘freedom fighters’ are a rag tag hodgepodge of civilians that have less discipline, training, experience and organization than a Chicago street gang. They are hapless, clueless and frequently seen retreating at the first shot. They can’t even tell the difference between incoming or outgoing fire; they shoot with little or no idea of what they are aiming at; and they are as dangerous to themselves and to civilians in the area as they are to Gaddafi’s forces. Driving through the old section of Brega early Sunday morning I was surprised at how lightly manned the road was; where was the Rebel army? Later I learned that they usually show up for work after breakfast in Benghazi. Then they call it a day in time to get home for the evening meal.
After a series of rolling hills we could see the University of Brega on the next rise. There was a small group of rebel fighters crouched by the side of the road, maybe four of them, lightly armed with AK-47’s and an RPG. “Gaddafi! Gaddafi!” they said urgently pointing toward the university. Because they tend to see Gaddafi soldiers under every tree, I discounted their shouted warnings. We got out of our vehicles and I started walking up the slight rise toward the university buildings, my longtime cameraman producer and friend Greg Hart walking alongside.
Then the first shot whistled over my head. What followed was a cacophony of firing from the Gaddafi forces holed up at the crossroads ahead. They started firing at us with everything from RPG’s to heavy machine guns. The shots cut through the air with that zinging sound that terrifies the soul. The worst part came when enemy mortar rounds started landing behind us. Retreat then had to go through that zone already bracketed by their firing.
The Libyan rebel army is the most ill-disciplined, inexperienced and unreliable I’ve ever seen in a combat situation. Their level of incompetence is so shocking the very notion of heavily arming them gives me nightmares of dudes walking around with machine guns looking to settle personal scores that have nothing to do with their revolt in the desert.
When we got caught in that cross-fire, it revealed that what this mob needs is a few good Marine Corps drill sergeants, not more or heavier weapons. Picture this: in front a fortified enemy position; Gaddafi loyalists have dug in behind the brick or cement walls of the town’s university. Actually, it’s more of an oil-related trade school, called Bright Star Petrochemical University. They are out-numbered and far from home; they know that if they surrender their fortified positions and attempt to flee westward toward the remaining Gaddafi stronghold of Tripoli they will be exposed to harassing attacks and possibly more allied air strikes. So they are not going anywhere and they have no choice but to fight.
Coming down the road from the eastern side is the vastly larger rebel force of at least 1,500 or 2,000. They are armed with rocket launchers, RPG’s, heavy machine guns, 20 millimeter anti-aircraft guns mounted on the backs of Toyota pickups and other assorted lethal weapons. The rebels drive toward the fortified position essentially in single file. In other words, only a few of their formidable arms can be brought to bear on the target they are attacking. No effort is made to spread out the line. No effort is made to protect either the north or south flank. No scouts are sent ahead to pinpoint potential targets within the Gaddafi stronghold.
Instead, the lead elements begin firing wildly. In vehicles back in the line, weapons are also let loose. Rounds fly dangerously close to the heads of the rebels in front. To avoid killing their comrades, the rebels aim high. Clearly the fact that they are shooting the sky does not occur to them, as they are made euphoric by the sheer power of their weapons igniting, however harmlessly. Many shout Allah Akbar as they fire.
The Gaddafi forces endure this assault for several minutes before letting loose their own barrage, better aimed. Several rounds land among the rebel column. This sets off one of their typical mad dashes to the rear; the entire column rushing incoherently to retreat back up the hill and out of range of the incoming rockets and mortars. Some keep going all the way home to Benghazi 135 miles away. The gravest danger of the day is that of traffic accidents as they careen away, many still firing their machine guns as they swerve up the road.
In 40 years of war reporting I have never seen so disgraceful a performance under arms. Granted just a few weeks ago most of these rebels were students and clerks and gas station attendants, lawyers, teachers and such. Still, didn’t anyone think to look up a basic training manual before they set out to make war? The lack of discipline also manifests itself in behavior that is sometimes larcenous, as weapons and vehicles are snatched and stolen from fellow fighters, presumably because the snatcher believes he can do a better job than the snatchee. Besides who wouldn’t want their own AK-47?
As the fighting continues today around the campus; a word about my crew. When my longtime producer Greg Hart and my calm, hard as steel former British SAS commando bodyguard Scott Board and I were walking up that road toward the campus, not expecting to be met by the fusillade that came, we took cover off the road, beginning the running commentary that formed the basis for last night’s special, The Firefight At Brega University. As we did, several Gaddafi rockets and mortar rounds landed right where we had been standing minutes before.
My second cameraman Greg Khananayev, who along withMohammed Ali our local stringer had literally just physically fought off a larcenous rebel trying to steal our vehicle, watched in horror as the rounds landed right where we had been standing. Terrified that we had been killed, Greg drove our Toyota back down the hill toward the firing to retrieve us. He thought we had been killed, but was determined not to leave us behind dead or alive. His courage allowed us to avoid the mile and a half walk back up that long hill through the cluster of fire coming from both sides. He probably saved our lives and I will never forget that.”
The incident was so unimpeachably harrowing that Jon Stewart on Comedy Central did an homage that fell between mild ridicule and unmistakable compliment. Comparing me to a kind of pop culture Lawrence of Arabia, he superimposed my face on some of the iconic scenes from my favorite movie starring the great Peter O’Toole in his film debut. Then he intercut from the movie to my real-life battle footage. Stewart tagged the piece saying, “Whatever you think of Geraldo Rivera, dude’s got major sack,” indicating his genitals, as in big balls. Geraldo of Arabia considered it such high-praise he took the phrase for this book’s title.