The sleepy towns in the Western Mountains of Libya come to life right before the country's rebels engage in a fight with the forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The mostly deserted roads suddenly fill with pickup trucks. The rebel fighters bristle with the makeshift weapons that they rely on. The vehicles, some monster trucks, then peel off into the front lines deep in the desert, covered in dried mud that serves as camouflage.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have often featured large, well-trained armies facing off against insurgents who also have modern weapons. But Libya is a "Mad Max" kind of war.
The Western Mountains, also known as the Nafusa Mountains, rise up from Libya's flat coastal plains like a wall of rock. Their stark brown cliffs form a natural defensive barrier.
For months the rebels there were essentially cut off. Gadhafi's troops had these mountains surrounded, and the rebels had to fight with whatever was on hand. And there wasn't much: ancient World War II rifles, some Kalashnikov guns, but everything else had to be scavenged.
But as the rebels pushed Gadhafi's forces back, they were able to raid his weapons storehouses. Some turned up surprising items like U.S. Navy practice rounds, provenance unknown. The rebels have been using them in the fighting, not realizing that they are simply duds.
Some of the heaviest fighting in the war is taking place in the mountains, and there aren't enough guns to go around. At one rebel lookout on the edge of a mountain cliff, the fighters only had four tank rounds for their tank. Had they known, Gadhafi's fighters stationed nearby could have attacked at any time, and there was no way the rebels could have been resupplied.
To supplement their arsenal, the rebels have become creative. One fighter made a rocket launcher from an old barbecue, with long tubes for firing projectiles positioned on top of what had been the grill. It looks like you could cook meat in the back blast of the rocket fire.
The fighters themselves are also a motley crew. Professors, students, lawyers, engineers, doctors, laborers and taxi drivers have all taken up arms and headed to the front lines. They've become battle hardened, but still lack discipline.
The rebels in the Nafusa mountains have made gains in recent weeks, using their bravado and their rusty guns to lethal effect. But the fighting is still far from over.