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On the front lines with Libyan rebels

By Shane Smith, VICE.COM
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Riding along with Libyan rebels
  • VICE embeds with rebel groups on the front lines in Libya
  • Journalists were surprised by how young some rebels were
  • When asked why they were fighting, "freedom" was the common answer
  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi
  • Arab Spring

Editor's note: The staff at has been intrigued by the journalism of VICE, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. The reports, which are produced solely by VICE, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our readers.

Brooklyn, New York (VICE.COM) -- The first time I went to Libya, in 2010, I was arrested just two days into my trip. Filming a documentary for VICE, I was detained for shooting where the authorities thought I shouldn't, beginning endless rounds of questions, emphatic yelling and head-shaking incredulity at my claims of innocence -- and, of course, the requisite implications that I was a spy. When I was finally released, I swore I would never return to the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. But that promise was quickly broken, and I found myself back in the country almost exactly a year later, in the midst of a chaotic and violent revolution.

My second trip to Libya consisted of traveling from the Egyptian border to Benghazi and then onto the front lines in Misurata, embedding with a few different rebel groups along the way. I was shocked by how young many of them were. Barely past puberty and fighting with whatever they could find (one guy had a spear gun), they displayed so much heroism and courage that I would tear up while talking to them. One rebel I spoke with had left the hospital earlier that night -- despite having lost a leg -- so that he could get back to the front lines. He was offered a flight to Germany and a new prosthetic limb by an NGO, but instead snuck out of the hospital to rejoin his comrades.

But the big question looming over everything was: "Why are they fighting?"

Everyone I asked -- bankers, shop clerks, students, construction workers, oil engineers and ex-Gaddafi loyalists -- offered the same answer: "Freedom." It was like the end of Braveheart every time a rebel looked into my eyes and said it. One 16-year-old told me, "I will die so the others can at least breathe free air." Heady stuff for a teenager, especially when most of the rebels aren't old enough to have known a political system other than Gaddafism. Risking your life for freedom is one thing. But risking it for the concept of freedom is something else entirely.

See the rest of The Rebels of Libya at VICE.COM

When we finally got to Misurata, it was surrounded by Gaddafi's troops and only accessible by sea. We slowly made our way toward the front, stopping periodically to talk to rebels. One 15-year-old boy I met was preparing a Grad-missile truck for battle. Beaming, he wondered whether I could "ask Clinton and Obama for new weapons" so that they could beat Gaddafi and he could fulfill his dream of playing for the Miami Heat or the Dallas Mavericks. As we talked, it struck me how much had changed in such a short period. This was a different Libya than the one I experienced last year -- a completely new country.