Sunday, September 11, 2011

Libyan Loyalists Hold Ground Against NATO and Rebel Attacks

Libya: Rebels dig in for the long haul as push for Sirte postponed

By Rob Crilly, Umm el-Gindeel
12:31PM BST 10 Sep 2011

Libyan fighters outside Sirte held their positions on Saturday despite the threatened deadline for the city to surrender.

Libyan fighters launched assaults on the final bastions of Muammar Gaddafi loyalists on Friday, with battles reported inside the holdout town of Bani Walid and near the ousted ruler's home town of Sirte.

Their push for Colonel Gaddafi's home town was put on hold about 60 miles to the east of the city as they collected the dead and treated the wounded from hours of intense rocket exchanges on Friday.

"We couldn't move, we were stuck," said one young fighter among the crew of an armoured personnel carrier. "If we had moved we would have been hit."

He added that he did not expect a fresh assault to be attempted for at least two days.

His commanders know they face an intense battle for the city.

They believe loyalist forces have T92 Russian-made tanks – much more modern than anything the former rebels can muster – dug in around the city.

They will not be able to rely on Nato air strikes once the battles goes inside the city streets.

Sirte is closely associated with Colonel Gaddafi. He was born just outside and attended primary school in what was then a quiet fishing town.

During his 42-year reign, however, it has been transformed. Government ministries have been moved to the city and money poured into its infrastructure.

The Gaddafa tribe are one of the tribes who fear a wave of revenge if Libya's former rebels enter the streets.

Some rebel commanders even believe Colonel Gaddafi himself might be hiding in the city – although most suspect he has taken refuge about the Touareg people in the south-western desert, close to the border with Niger.

Knowing that an assault on Sirte would be bloody and hard-fought, last month the National Transitional Council said it wanted to take Sirte without a fight.

But the deadline for its surrender has already been extended once and on Saturday there were few signs that the NTC forces would move for an attack on the city.

Instead they used Saturday to collect their dead from the front lines, about 20 miles beyond a field hospital housed in three containers at Umm el-Gineel.

Usama Jazwi, an anaesthesiologist at the unit, said 13 bodies had been brought back on Friday.

"Yesterday we saw a lot of wounded. They were coming in with gunshot and shrapnel wounds," he said.

"Today we have already received four dead and they will collect more."

No comments: