BENGHAZI, Libya March 30, 2011— -- Gen. Khalifa Haftr, the self-proclaimed commander of the Free Libyan Army, does not dress for battle. On a recent day after his forces had reclaimed much of the territory they had lost, the commander was wearing a pinstripe suit and a black turtleneck sweater.
Haftr, who lived in Fairfax, Va., until recent weeks when he returned to join the rebellion against Moammar Gadhafi, was appointed to lead the rebel army earlier this month. His top aides appear to be his sons.
It is difficult for the media as well as the Obama administration to determine who, if anyone, is in charge of the rebellion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently, "We don't know as much as we would like to know and as much as we expect we will know. We're picking up information."
A U.S. official said, "There's still a fair amount of uncertainty here on who's who in the opposition camp."
After a surge across eastern Libya following allied aerial attacks on Gadhafi's forces, the rebel army is again in retreat from the city key oil city of Ras Lanouf, and it's not clear who is commanding them.
Haftr, a general in Gadhafi's army during the 1980s, claims to be in charge. Haftr told ABC News that he doesn't officially report to Omar Hariri, the rebels' defense minister; or to Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes, who has the title of chief of staff.
The general claims that one of his sons is in regular contact with James Clapper, U.S. director of National Intelliglence, a claim that a spokesperson for Clapper said was inaccurate.
Haftr spoke with ABC News earlier this week at a time the rebels were on the march behind allied air power. At the time, Haftr predicted that the rebels' advance on Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte would not be a major test for his ragtag army, and that the city would fall easily.
Instead, the rebels ran into tanks and artillery and are now fleeing for safety.
The opposition's military command structure -- what is known of it -- has some inherent problems. A U.S. official pointed out that Haftr and Younes have been on opposite sides for a long time.
When Haftr served under Gadhafi, he fought in Chad, a military debacle in which thousands of Libyan soldiers died. After being arrested in Chad, Haftr says he was sentenced to death by Gadhafi, but managed to seek asylum in the U.S. He said he returned to Libya in recent weeks and was promptly put in charge of the rebel forces.
Libyan Rebel General Lived in Virginia Until Recently
Haftr insists that he is well known in Libya and can rally and organize forces against Gadhafi.
Younes defected from Gadhafi's forces only in the last month. While his long-lasting loyalty to Gadhafi has aroused suspicion among some opposition elements, he brings with him recent military experience and knowledge of Gadhafi's forces and capabilities.
"Libyan opposition forces are a patchwork. Gen. Khalifa Haftr and Abdel Fattah Younes are two of the players. They've been on opposite sides in Libya for quite a while and are probably just beginning to build a relationship. After all, Haftr's been an opposition figure for some 20 years and Younes just left the Gadhafi regime," said the U.S. official who had asked not to be named.
Haftr says his forces need M16 rifles, anti-tank missiles, armored personnel carriers and communication equipment. The general said he would welcome foreign military trainers to whip his army into shape.
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He also denied that extremist Islamists are in his army, although U.S. experts told Congress this week that there was evidence that militant Muslims make up a small number of rebel fighters.
ABC News' Luis Martinez and Matthew Cole contributed to this report