Libyan rebels recapture strategic eastern town

Libyan rebels backed by allied air strikes recaptured the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiyah on Saturday, pushing out Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

Rebel fighters danced on tanks, waved flags and fired in the air by buildings riddled with bulletholes after an all-night battle that suggested the tide is turning against Gaddafi’s forces in the east.

A Reuters correspondent saw half a dozen wrecked tanks near the eastern entrance to the town and the ground strewn with empty shell casings. There were also signs of heavy fighting at the western gate, the last part of the town taken from government troops.

“Everything was destroyed last night by our forces,” said rebel fighter Sarhag Agouri. Witnesses and rebel fighters said the whole town was in rebel hands by late morning.

Capturing Ajdabiyah is a big morale boost for the rebels after two weeks spent on the back foot.


Gaddafi’s better-armed forces halted an early rebel advance near the major oil export terminal of Ras Lanuf and pushed them back to their stronghold of Benghazi until Western powers struck Gaddafi’s positions from the sea and air.

Air strikes on Ajdabiyah on Friday afternoon seem to have been decisive. The African Union said it was planning to facilitate talks to help end the war, but NATO said its operation could last three months, and France said the conflict would not end soon.

In Washington, a US military spokesperson said the coalition fired 16 Tomahawk cruise missiles and flew 153 air sorties in the past 24 hours attacking Gaddafi’s artillery, mechanised forces and command and control infrastructure.

Western governments hope the raids, launched a week ago with the aim of protecting civilians, will shift the balance of power in favour of the Arab world’s most violent popular revolt.

In Tripoli, explosions were heard early on Saturday, signalling possible new strikes by warplanes or missiles.

Promotions
Libyan state television was broadcasting occasional, brief news reports of Western air strikes. Mostly it showed footage — some of it grainy images years old — of cheering crowds waving green flags and carrying portraits of Gaddafi.

Neither Gaddafi nor his sons have been shown on state television since the Libyan leader made a speech from his Tripoli compound on Wednesday.

State TV said the “brother leader” had promoted all members of his armed forces and police “for their heroic and courageous fight against the crusader, colonialist assault”.

The United States said Gaddafi’s ability to command and sustain his forces was diminishing.

Officials and rebels said aid organisations were able to deliver some supplies to the western city of Misrata but were concerned because of government snipers in the city centre.

Gaddafi’s forces shelled an area on the outskirts of the city, killing six people including three children, a rebel said.

Misrata has experienced some of the heaviest fighting between rebels and Gaddafi’s forces since an uprising began on February 16.

At African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, AU commission chairperson Jean Ping said on Friday the organisation was planning to facilitate peace talks in a process that should end with democratic elections.

It was the first statement by the AU, which had opposed any form of foreign intervention in the Libya crisis, since the UN Security Council imposed a no-fly zone last week and air strikes began on Libyan military targets.

But in Brussels, a Nato official said planning for Nato’s operation assumed a mission lasting 90 days, although this could be extended or shortened as required.

France said the mission could go on for weeks. – Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Time is not on our side in Libya

Simmering tensions could see the country partitioned between east and west

Life in the time of coronavirus

Self-diagnosis and symptoms are recipe for paranoia — just see the doc, take the meds and Bob’s your uncle

Soleimani air strike: Why this is a dangerous escalation of US assassination policy

The Trump administration is only the latest to push the boundaries of the law to take out foreign adversaries

It’s too early to celebrate

People power can break a dictatorship – but what comes next?

Libya clashes death toll rises to 32: UN-backed government

Clashes near Tripoli in Sunday have killed at least 32 people, with a further 50 people left wounded

Why Libya’s new elections might not put the country back on track

Libya’s proposed elections and any subsequent interim government will fail if the country’s challenges aren’t addressed
Advertising

Western Cape warned not to be complacent about flat-lining Covid-19...

The Western Cape, which once had the highest number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa, is seeing a steady decline in active cases

Sisulu axes another water board

Umgeni Water’s board in KwaZulu-Natal was appointed irregularly by her predecessor, the water and sanitation minister claims
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday