Sunday, April 17, 2011

Western-backed Rebels Flee Ajdabiya in Libya

April 17, 2011

Rebels Flee Key Libyan Town

New York Times

AJDABIYA, Libya — Rebel fighters fled this city Sunday after a rocket and artillery attack by government forces that were reportedly on the western outskirts.

Scores of rebel pickup trucks and other vehicles could be seen leaving the eastern approaches of Ajdabiya, headed toward the rebel capital of Benghazi, about 85 miles north. Explosions could be heard in the city.

Their flight seemed to bring to an end a claimed rebel push that had taken them to the outskirts of the oil refinery town of Brega, about another 40 miles further west of Ajdabiya.

Many of the fighters in the vehicles blamed Nato for failing to give them enough support, and also said they had insufficient heavy weapons to match the weaponry of forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

“Where are the NATO forces?” asked Absalam Hamid, who identified himself as a rebel captain. “We don’t know why they didn’t bomb them.” Strong winds and a sandstorm lowered visibility Sunday and may have made it difficult for air support to engage targets, although Captain Hamid said NATO planes had not been active the day before either, when government forces began advancing.

He turned around his pickup truck, which like many had a mounted heavy machine gun on the back, and headed toward Benghazi, followed by a dozen other vehicles. Some had rocket pods from helicopter gunships and jet fighters mounted on the rear of their pickup beds; others sported long rocket tubes, but no rockets to use in them.

“Where is America, where is France, we need Sarkozy,” one of the men shouted. “We have no army.” Many of the fighters were clearly jittery and frightened.

On Saturday, the chief of staff of the Free Libya Forces, as the rebels style themselves, General Abdel Fattah Younes, told Al Arabiya television that their fighters were already in Brega and expected to conclude their capture of the city by Sunday.

“We are in a not-too-bad state of preparedness and our army fighters, youths and rebels are now doing a good job — and in the morning there will be good news,” Al Arabiya quoted General Younes as saying about Brega on Saturday.

A spokesman for the rebels’ National Transitional Council also expressed optimism that Brega’s fall was imminent.

Fighting has see-sawed around Ajdabiya for a month now with neither side firmly in control of the highway that runs through it, connecting the rebel held east with the rest of Libya.

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