Yesterday, I had seen the aftermath of an air-strike by Qaddafi jets on the rebels’ position outside Ras Lanuf. Today, I was in the middle of them.
Ras Lanuf is a small town on the Libyan coast in the Bay of Sirte, which prior to this conflict caused little interest, unless you were in the oil business. It is now splashed across the news as the front-line of the Libyan conflict.
The rebels man a checkpoint at the refinery, and another on the edge of the town. Several anti-aircraft guns are stationed at the intersection, along with a large contingent of the rebels, and the international press. We must have been around twenty, stood there on the edge of the desert.
The checkpoint also attracted the eye of the Qaddafi forces: they flew four sorties over us today, each one dropping two bombs.
Our only warning was the sound of their engines. They flew so high, and so fast, that the rebels spotters had little use in locating them. As the roar of the jets reached us, the atmosphere got tense.
Anti-aircraft guns started to open up into the skies above, useless against fighters at that altitude, but morale boosting. The din was deafening, as the hot casings of the bullets spewed out onto the roadside. Crise of “Alluha akbar” (“God is greatest”) would erupt from the rebels around me.
And then came the whistle of the arriving bombs.
There was little cover, and so all one could do was hope. Hope it would not meet its target.
At around midday, two thundered into the desert just off the side of the road. They landed perhaps seventy-five metres from our position, the twin booms ripping through the air as columns of smoke and sand rose into the air. I managed to get off two frames as people ran towards me, just as they hit.
Still, the anti-aircraft guns filled the sky with bullets.
Almost exactly an hour later, the now familiar roar of jet engines returned, followed by the whistle of incoming explosives. They fell just the other side of our position, hitting one of the houses in the residential district just next to us. Again, only seventy-five metres or so separated us from their impact.
Again, a couple of frames of the impact as the yellow smoke billowed into the air. I ran, jumped over a wall and was at the impact site. The living room was exposed to the street, a large crater in front of the house. Luckily, the inhabitants of the house had already fled east.
Men with kalashnikovs stood in the crater, shouting against “the dog”, Qaddafi. A few metres away, this bomb’s sibling lay unexploded in the street.
Back at the rebel position, men knelt on the sidewalk for the lunch-time prayers.
“What am I doing?” crossed my mind several times that night.