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News, September 2011
Fighter Face Resistance in Sirte and Bani Walid, Announcement of New Government Delayed
September 19, 2011
NTC postpones forming government amid clashes
By News Wires (text)
As Libya’s National Transitional Council forces struggled to eliminate pockets of pro-Gaddafi resistance in Sirte and Bani Walid, the country’s interim leaders indefinitely put off forming a new government after failing to meet a Sunday deadline.
The birth of a new government in Libya, due on Sunday, was put off indefinitely amid disputes over portfolios and as Moamer Kadhafi diehards put up stiff resistance in their remaining strongholds.
National Transitional Council (NTC) number two Mahmud Jibril said last-minute haggling delayed the announcement of the new cabinet line-up before reluctantly announcing to the media that the unveiling would be postponed indefinitely.
Progress by NTC fighters hoping to crush the last pockets of resistance in Kadhafi bastions also appeared stalemated, as the fugitive's loyalists in his hometown of Sirte and the oasis of Bani Walid refused to yield.
"The announcement of a new transitional government has been postponed indefinitely in order to finalise consultations," Jibril told reporters in Benghazi.
But in an apparent effort to put on a brave face, Jibril said much has been achieved to mete out several portfolios, adding that he expected consultations on the rest to be "over quickly."
"But I believe that an essential part of these consultations was completed today."
The administration will also look into getting women and young people to play a major role in a new government as deputy ministers and directors general of ministries, he added.
Jibril, a former Kadhafi regime official, has stood accused by some colleagues of failing to consult enough with long-standing grass roots opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Jibril himself was expected to retain his post as interim premier, while Ali Tarhuni was touted to be named vice president in charge of economic affairs.
The defence portfolio was expected to go to Osama al-Juwili and oil to Abdel Rahman bin Yezza.
On the battle front, Kadhafi diehards in his hometown Sirte and in Bani Walid stood their ground as NTC combatants tried to break their morale by preparing for a new multi-pronged advance.
NTC military spokesman Ahmed Omar Bani said he expected Kadhafi forces in Sirte and Bani Walid to be defeated in a "matter of days," and military commanders said they had gained some ground.
"We are now 38 kilometres (23.5 miles) from Sirte," Mustafa bin Dardaf, a commander with the Zintan Brigade, told AFP on the eastern front.
"Since the morning we have taken 20-25 kilometres. Our fighters at this moment have entered the town of Sultana and are searching for Kadhafi forces."
Earlier in the day, an AFP correspondent reported that new regime forces advancing from the east had come under steady rocket and machine-gun fire from Kadhafi loyalists.
He reported at least 12 tanks loaded with fighters massing east of Sirte, along with dozens of pick-ups filled with with anti-aircraft guns and hundreds of combatants.
On either side of the road to Sirte, crouching fighters advanced slowly through the desert scrub.
With doctors at a field hospital reporting at least 10 killed and 40 wounded in the fighting, front line fighters and commanders gave contrasting reports of progress in Sirte.
Men on the ground acknowledged tough opposition while those in charge downplayed the resistance.
"We don't even have five percent of Sirte because we just go in and out," said one fighter, Abdul Rauf al-Mansuri.
But Bani predicted that "in a few days the situation will completely change in Sirte and Bani Walid which will be under our control."
Speaking at a news conference in Tripoli, Bani said the "geographical nature and the strong presence of snipers" in Bani Walid prevented a quick victory in the oasis, 180 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of Tripoli.
"We managed to enter the town on the north side that we control. We have advanced towards the centre but we were attacked by snipers and mercenaries who have launched rockets from the mountains," he said.
Kadhafi loyalists were also putting up stiff resistance in Bani Walid, an AFP correspondent said.
The new leadership's forces are trying to take new ground there, with some pushing further into the town as others gathered some six kilometres (3.7 miles) from its centre.
A commander of the NTC fighters told AFP the battle for Bani Walid resumed at midday after unrelenting clashes from midday on Saturday until early dawn.
"There is an unconfirmed number of wounded from today's fighting," Dr Mabruk Kornfan said.
Some fighters left the town with loyalist prisoners, as residents of Bani Walid fled.
"There is no electricity and no food in the town," Mohammed al-Khazmi told AFP. "There are many rebels inside fighting forces loyal to Kadhafi, but they are meeting stiff resistance."
At least seven NTC fighters have been reported killed over the past two days in Bani Walid.
NATO has kept pounding Kadhafi's remaining armour, saying its warplanes hit 11 targets around Sirte on Saturday, 11 targets in Al-Jufra oasis and three in Sabha in the deep south.
Pro-Gaddafi forces stage bloody resistance in Sirte
Revolutionary fighters battled to make headway in their assault on Sirte on Saturday. The fierce resistance rebels have encountered in the coastal city and in the mountain enclave of Bani Walid has fuelled fears of a protracted campaign.
By News Wires (text)
AP - Revolutionary fighters have struggled to make gains in an assault into Gadhafi’s hometown with bloody street-by-street battles against loyalist forces fiercely defending the most symbolic of the shattered regime’s remaining strongholds.
The fresh attack into the Mediterranean coastal city of Sirte on Saturday contrasted with a stalemate in the mountain enclave of Bani Walid where demoralized anti-Gadhafi forces tried to regroup after being beaten back by loyalist snipers and gunners holding strategic high ground.
Intense resistance has stalled forces of Libya’s new leadership trying to crush the dug-in fighters loyal to Gadhafi, weeks after the former rebels swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21 and pushed the country’s leader out of power and into hiding. Sirte and Bani Walid are the main bastions of backers of the old regime in Libya’s coastal plain, but smaller holdouts remain in the deserts of the center of the country - and another major stronghold, Sabha, lies in the deep south.
The resistance has raised fears of a protracted insurgency of the sort that has played out in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as the transitional government tries to establish its authority and move toward eventual elections.
A military spokesman for the transitional government said revolutionaries do not know Gadhafi’s location.
Col. Ahmed Omar Bani pointed to the still uncollected bounty of nearly $2 million that the new leadership has put on the fugitive leader’s head, saying, “Up to now we don’t have any certain information or intelligence about his whereabouts.”
Columns of black smoke rose over Sirte, as revolutionary fighters backed by heavy machine guns and rockets tried to push through crowded residential areas in the city. They claimed to have gained less than a mile into the city, along the main coastal highway leading in from the west.
The forces were met by a rain of gunfire, rockets and mortars. A field hospital set up outside Sirte at a gas station filled with wounded fighters, including some from a convoy hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Twenty-four anti-Gadhafi fighters were killed and 54 wounded in the day’s battles, the military council from the nearby city of Misrata reported.
The pro-regime radio station in Sirte repeatedly aired a recorded message it said was from Gadhafi, urging the city’s defenders to fight on. “You must resist fiercely. You must kick them out of Sirte,” the voice said. “If they get inside Sirte, they are going to rape the women.” The voice resembled Gadhafi’s but its authenticity could not be confirmed.
Gadhafi’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, vowed, “We have the ability to continue this resistance for months,” in a phone call Friday to Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, which has become the mouthpiece for the former regime.
The conditions inside Sirte were reportedly growing increasingly dire for those caught in the crossfire. Nouri Abu Bakr, a 42-year-old teacher fleeing the city, said there is no electricity or medicine and food supplies are nearly exhausted.
“Gadhafi gave all the people weapons, but those fighting are the Gadhafi brigade of loyalists,” he said.
Hassan Dourai, Sirte representative in the new, interim government, said fighters reported seeing one of Gadhafi’s sons, Muatassim, shortly before the offensives began Friday, but he has not been spotted since the battles intensified. The whereabouts of Gadhafi and several of his sons remain unknown. Other family members have fled to neighboring Algeria and Niger.
Most of the hundreds of fighters assaulting Sirte are from Misrata, a city to the northwest along the coast that held out for weeks against a brutal Gadhafi siege during the civil war. Revolutionary commanders were trying to open a second front into Sirte, from the east. They said they were trying to reach a surrender deal with elders in most of the Harawa region, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Sirte, to open a possible new pathway - but fighting was reported in the area Saturday, suggesting efforts were stalled.
The other stronghold of Bani Walid, 150 miles (250 kilometers) east of Sirte, has proven even more difficult for the forces of the new regime. The fighters withdrew Friday after facing withering sniper fire and shelling from loyalist units.
The loyalists hold the strategic high ground along the ridges overlooking a desert valley called Wadi Zeitoun that divides the city between northern and southern sections. From there, they could bloody the fighters trying to move down through the northern half of the city and into the valley, which is irrigated with olive groves. The terrain has made the city a historical hold-out: In the early 20th century, Italian forces occupying Libya struggled to take Bani Walid.
“This may be the worst front Libya will see,” said fighter Osama Al-Fassi, who joined other former rebels gathered at a feed factory outside the city’s northern edge, where they drank coffee and took target practice at plastic bottles.
On Saturday evening, Gadhafi forces blasted fighters at the northern entrance with snipers and mortar fire, prompting the revolutionary forces to battle their way in once again in an unplanned advance, said Bilqassim el-Imami, one of the fighters. They made their way back to the edge of Wadi Zeitoun amid heavy fire with anti-aircraft machine guns.
A 50-year-old civil servant fleeing Bani Walid with his family, Ismail Mohammed, described the pro-Gadhafi forces as "too strong" inside Bani Walid and suggested a generational divide between young people strongly behind the uprising and older Libyans often more cautious about whether the revolutionary forces can bring stability.
“The youth wanted this revolution and sometimes you can’t control your own son,” he said.
In Libya’s southern desert, hundreds of revolutionary fighters were negotiating with villagers in the still pro-Gadhafi region to surrender peacefully. The fighters left the captured Bani Jalloud air base and rolled through villages where they reached truces. Along the route, crowds cheered their arrival and flashed V-for-victory signs. But in one village, Ayoun, they came under fire, prompting a heavy gunbattle in which one fighter was killed.
Col. Bashir Awidat said they seek to secure the surrounding hinterlands before moving against Sabha, the main southern urban center about 400 miles (650 kilometers) south of Tripoli. He said the villagers had been isolated and believed Gadhafi’s propaganda.
“They think that we’ll raid their houses and rob them. The media coverage here has been bad for 42 years and it has trained people to think a certain way, and that will take time to change,” he told The Associated Press at the captured air base.
Date created : 18/09/2011
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