AJDABIYA, Lyba -- We set out early Tuesday morning on the desert highway from Libya's eastern-most city of Tobruk for Ajdabiya, scene of some of the most recent attacks by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi against rebel fighters. It took almost four hours to cover the roughly 225 miles, almost all of it on a nearly empty two lane highway buffeted by sand-filled winds.
The only signs of life were hundreds of camels, one of them forcing our convoy to slow as it crossed right in front of us.
After refueling at a local gas station (which ran out of gas after we topped off ) we drove to a traffic circle on the western edge of town where the rebels have set up a checkpoint. Most of the men were young, wearing street clothes or unmatched uniforms, with AK-47's slung over their shoulders. Others manned machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons mounted in the backs of HiLuxe pickup trucks.
Some of these trucks drove through the gate; others were parked along the sides of the circle or on nearby streets. A few hundred yards down the road a much larger group of fighters were gathered near what we were told was an ammo depot. We tried to convince the rebels to let us pass and get closer to the troops but they said no.
Instead we shot an interview with two of the men, who mostly spoke Arabic. They told us they remained confident and were gaining strength, despite their casualties. "For every man that falls, ten more take his place," they said through our translator.
They had plenty of food, water and ammo and yes, they were getting sleep. They worked around the clock in shifts. What did they need?
"Heavy armor (meaning tanks)... and no-fly zone," they told me. They were taking a pounding from Qaddafi's jets, and their guns were no match for the lightning-fast fighters in the sky.
We then moved to the center of the circle to get footage of two craters in the ground where two bombs fell 24 hours earlier. Rebels say the jets were probably trying to destroy that gas station about a quarter mile down the road, the rebels have terrible aim and almost never hit their targets.
Moments later, we heard a jet and then a horrific boom. It felt very close. We scrambled and dived into the sand. I crawled towards one of our vehicles, then stood as dozens of anti-aircraft guns opened fire into the sky. The sound was deafening but the effect was meaningless. The jet was long gone.
A large mushroom cloud rose on the horizon a few hundred yards away, very close to the ammo depot we'd just tried to visit minutes earlier.
We might've been within a few dozen feet of the strike point if they'd let us in. Later we heard one rebel was killed when the bomb landed next to his truck.
I interviewed a rebel captain as his guns continue to fire shells into the air.
The chances of shooting one of those jets out of the sky? He admitted they were slim and said his best chance was with a heat seeking rocket propelled grenade (RPG). We saw several men with the weapons and watched one fire over our heads, far too late to hit the intended target.
We thanked the captain and shook hands. Then he left to rejoin his men.