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Inside Gaddafi's Libya: The Return

Foley returns to Libya to witness the fall of Gaddafi and to search for the body of his colleague, Anton Hammerl.

the front lines. The next day the battle for Sirte began in earnest. It was to be much more of a beast than even the Misrata fighters expected, and the reasons are now known worldwide.

We were there from the beginning. With Andrea and Dominique, an AFP writer, commuting the two and a half hours between Sirte and Misrata every evening. The battle looked particularly vicious even from the start. The outskirts were defended with invisible sniper fire and rockets. After Andrea and I had taken some risks to get closer one afternoon, we returned to the field hospital to see Oliver, a French colleague who had been severely wounded. He was moaning on the bloodied tile.

A rocket-propelled grenade at close range had hit him. It shocked the hell out of us to see him there about to die from doing the same thing we had just been doing — trying to get up-close combat footage. It all felt very foolish of us. His wife, an on-air reporter, was there and had to be held back from seeing him at first, while Libyan doctors seemed to save his life several times.

Two days after Oliver was stabilized, we had an accident as we were fleeing Sirte. Gaddafi’s long-distance missiles pounded closer and as we retreated in the late afternoon, our 18-year old driver wasn’t able to avoid a rebel truck that had turned into our lane. I had a moment to see it, but Andrea and Francisco, another AFP photographer, did not.

We smashed hard into the rebel truck. Andrea’s leg appeared broken and Francisco had a serious gash to his forehead. They had to be rushed back to the field hospital at an abandoned gas station. But as more loyalist rockets began to target the hospital, we were forced to flee with the evacuating doctors.

The injuries to friends were especially sobering after what had happened to Oliver. Sirte seemed unpredictably dangerous. Even so, I could only tell myself to step back, not actually do it. Manu had arrived with the Spanish photographers and they were constantly pushing ahead. When Clare showed up two weeks later, it seemed fateful. We had been waiting and wondering about her.

Misrata had begun its revenge against Sirte. The rebels would make unpredictable pauses in the assault to apparently allow Sirte families a chance to flee. Then they’d begin shelling again.

Matthew Van Dyke emerged when the Benghazi brigades arrived and penetrated into Sirte from the eastern front a few weeks later. He looked 10 times better and more confident now in full rebel regalia and behind a mounted machine gun turret. He spoke of close calls at a rebel-occupied hotel and also of not wanting to fire randomly like other rebels. It seemed he wanted to be a principled soldier in the western sense but also to be a hero in the Libyan sense.

As Misrata and Benghazi fighters blew into the concentric Sirte defenses, it began to get more and more dangerous. John, a charming British photographer, who stayed with a Katiba in a commandeered house, had had an eardrum blown out when an RPG skirted through his legs on an earlier assault. When the rebels tried a frontal assault on a huge governmental complex known as Ougadugo, snipers on two sides of a defensive wall pinned them down for days. Clare and I saw a man shot in the head not 15 feet away from us. Later that afternoon I was running across the gate and a mortar hit. When I couldn’t find her, I had a terrible feeling that Clare had been thrown in the ambulance that roared away. Manu and I found her minutes later, and we all jumped in a stripped down jeep as gunfire spurted across our path and the rebel driver floored it straight ahead, with us ducked down hugging the stripped metal siding.

More form GlobalPost: Civilians flee besieged Sirte

We should have been thinking about why Sirte was so well defended. The rebels insisted it was because Motassim Gaddafi, Gaddafi’s third son, was still inside Sirte. Lutfi, an intense, Misrata fighter, who mostly worked alone, insisted others had heard Mottasim commanding troops on the loyalist radio channels. We believed it initially.