Jerry Erwin Vancouver, Wash. insists his motives are more altruistic and that he is not being paid. He went to Libya in early May, he says, because he was “impressed with the Libyans’ struggle against a dictator.” Having served with the 101st Airborne in the 1980s, Erwin has spent the past 25 years as an Army Reserve intelligence officer specializing in counterintelligence and strategic analysis. The American reservist has the support of those Libyans on the base loyal to Khalifa Hiftar, the former Libyan army colonel and war hero who has spent most of the past 20 years living in the U.S. in suburban Virginia, before returning to join the rebellion earlier this year. Hiftar has repeatedly clashed with rival rebel military leaders wary of the returning exile. While troops loyal to Hiftar control part of Dhubat al-Saff, the camp commanders answer to rebel chief of staff Abdel Fatah Younis, a bitter rival of Hiftar.
Some of Erwin’s fellow trainers share his sentiments. “We want to train our guys to be ready to go to the front,” says Fawzi al-Ubeidi, a 46-year-old former sergeant in the Libyan army who defected to the U.S. with Hiftar, and who left his home in Johnson City, N.Y., to join the rebellion. “But the commanders here want to teach us the same losing techniques that made our army a decrepit fighting force.”