“We won’t arm cowboys”.
When Osama, a Libyan rebel commander, heard those words he knew all hope that the US was going to tip the balance on the ground in their favour had disappeared.
This, he said, came from an American government representative during a meeting in Benghazi not long after Nato’s air campaign began.
“The truth is, they’re worried about getting their weapons back,” Osama told me at his headquarters in the besieged port city of Misrata, which has been surrounded and rocketed by Col Gaddafi’s forces for months now.
“So, we’re fighting with weapons from the 1970s though we’re doing pretty well with them,” he said.
Next week, Libya will begin observing the holy month of Ramadan.
The European leaders that galloped into this conflict, despite reservations from some of their senior military advisers, expected it to be over by now.
Two things have slowed it down for the rebels.
One is the lack of good weapons and ammunition, the other is that the rebels say Nato has demanded proper organisation and accountability from the fighters on the ground before any agreement on minute-by-minute co-ordination.
Nato has said, with the support of the rebels, it will still bomb during Ramadan if it sees targets, though they will likely be more cautious to avoid civilian casualties.
As for the rebel fighters, Ramadan means progress is likely to grind to a halt. They expect many of their men will still want to fast throughout the day, even though the Koran says fighters are allowed a dispensation.
“Ramadan will be tough,” Osama tells me.
A trip to the front line on a busy day shows you how tough. I met 23-year-old Abu Bakr in a ditch as he made his way towards the neighbouring town of Zletin.
Grad rockets were landing nearby, the exchange of machine-gun fire was deafening and bullets were whizzing over my head.
I was wearing a flak jacket and a fragmentation-proof helmet. Abu Bakr was wearing an Argentinian football shirt and flip flops.
He had an AK-47 over his arm and a broad grin across his face. Before he spent his days shooting at Libyan soldiers, he was at the local university studying archaeology and tourism.
Locals in Benghazi are said to have painted over anti-Gaddafi graffiti as his troops entered the city
He had been on the front line for three weeks. “Right now I’m learning how to use the Kalashnikov and an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade],” he said.
He gestured around at his colleagues. “This is the normal people. They learn how to shoot, how to use the gun, maybe in one day he can use. We are in good spirits because we are right and the Gaddafi forces are wrong.”
Misrata is the middle class at war. The fighters are businessmen, university students, farmers and shopkeepers. They fight hard and they do not run.
Their front lines hold because they have dug in using shipping containers buried in the sand as bomb shelters.
There are none of the whitewashed walls in Misrata that I found in Benghazi, where locals painted over anti-Gaddafi graffiti as his troops entered the city.
In Misrata they reached for their rifles not their paint brushes and fought his troops to a stand still. And that is the nature of this war.
It is not one revolution. It is lots of local ones as chaotic or as organised as the local people behind it. On the Ajdabiya front line in the east I saw for myself how incompetent the rebels were.
In Nafusa the rebels have been accused of looting and beating up some pro-Gaddafi supporters – though Human Rights Watch said their actions paled against widespread atrocities by government troops.
In Misrata they pride themselves on their behaviour on the front line. I saw captured Gaddafi troops being treated well in rebel-run hospitals, and I was invited to visit them at their prisoner of war camps after they had been processed. Everyone has been fighting for their freedom, but it is their freedom.
“Zliten will be taken by Zliten,” senior rebel commander Otheman Makhlouf told the BBC last week.
“Misratans will back up and support but it is time for them to fight,” he said.
When or if these fighters get to the edge of Tripoli they will expect the same. Tripoli will not be taken. It will have to collapse from within or its people will have to rise up.
“People should liberate themselves. We did it, we will help, but they must fight too,” was how one person in Misrata put it to me.
This war is best summed up by the young men I met who had come from the UK to fight for the nation of their fathers but who were too scared of being tagged as Islamist radicals back home to allow me to name or formally interview them. For that reason I will not even say where in the UK they come from.
They brought little with them but enthusiasm, belief in their cause, and copies of Top Gear and 4-4-2 football magazine for the mates they were preparing to join.
Rebel commanders say they have been fighting with weapons dating from the 1970s
They are not fundamentalists, they are fighting in a war their own country is willing to put its soldiers in harm’s way for. But in the post-9/11 world, they told me they were frightened of being targeted back home by MI5 as potential terrorists because of their faith.
They had two other big concerns. They had not had access to their Facebook pages in over a week, and they did not know their exam results. Few of their friends knew they were here, those that did had made them promise they could have their best trainers if they did not return.
“If I fail [my exams], I’ll have to go back for the retakes, but that’s ok, I can still come back [to Misrata],” one told me on his first day off from the front line.
Those that have already liberated themselves in Libya are willing to wait.
They say they have been waiting four decades for the Colonel’s demise, so a little longer will not matter. Col Gaddafi himself is willing to wait.
In fact, time is on everyone’s side but Nato’s, whose members have been at odds right from the start about this conflict. They are unlikely to get any more united the longer it drags on.