22 May 2011 19:30
The following set of images was taken in May and June of 2011 in the coastal city of Misrata, Libya, three months into the revolutionary civil war which continues to unravel in a still volatile country. I, alongside a number of other journalist, spent a month in the city which, at the time, was surrounded by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. Less than a month earlier, those forces were inside the city but rebel forces, supported by NATO aircraft and sea based assets, had managed to push the frontlines to the outskirts of Libya's third largest city. At that time, a thin line of rebels kept those forces at bay.
The only route into the city was via the sea, the routes protected by NATO warships, providing intermittent access to journalist, civilians and fighters alike.
Despite the gains however heavy fighting continued close by and the sounds of artillery, at times unrelenting for upto 12 hours at a time, reverberated throughout the city, a constant daily reminder for the cities population of the still very close and real danger that faced them.
Writing at the time, I remarked that, whilst 'Western interview has played a key role in this conflict' and that 'revolutionary forces would not be in the position they are today without such assistance', the situation during our stay there 'remained, for now, a largely static one with only small skirmishes and back and forth gains. NATO in Libya are a limited force only, with a suffocation mandate and politically sensitive members who are unwilling, or unable, to commit the forces necessary to deliver a definite blot to forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi'. In short, progress or victory for the rebels was in no way guaranteed.
Indeed the only times when civilians in the city, often so generous and kind, would express their anger towards us was when hours of artillery would fall with seemingly little response from NATO and ensuring a steady stream of injured and dead fitters to the cities overworked hospitals.
The images themselves try then to represent, in some small way, that time in the city. The collection includes images of the aftermath of NATO strikes around the city, the constant training of new rebel fighters committed to defending their families and their city and the ongoing fighting on the multiple frontlines with the resulting injuries and death that inevitably followed. Amidst all this were civilians of all races, ages and genders, not only caught up in the middle of the fighting but often a key part of it. Most may not have been on the frontlines, but nobody was immune to the effects of the war.
If nothing else, the fighting brought the city together in a way that residents say they had never seen before, with everybody looking out for everybody else and helping however they could. It was a true war time spirit and was humbling to see.
In the last few days of my own stay in Misrata, at a time where the Gaddafi loyal forces appeared to be pushing forward, not backward, with new artillery strikes on the port threatened the one route of escape and entry, I wrote these cautious but ultimately optimist words would prove in a sense to be true; 'Blue skies over Libya, a country badly damaged but with flickers of potential. If and when Muammar Gaddafi falls, it is unclear what will replace him. Those in the west of Libya are unlikely to listen to those in the east whilst those in the east will not part with their newly found voice easily. Libya will also face foreign powers vying for influence, all with vested interested in the oil rich state. Only time will tell what the Arab Spring will bring to Libya, but, despite significant obstacles, there is now, at the very least, some glimmer of hope'.