Monday, March 28, 2011

Libyan rebels close in on Sirte

 Libya's rebel forces closed in Monday on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the western half of the country, after it was targeted for the first time by international air strikes.
The rebels have recovered hundreds of kilometers of territory, regaining the control over most of Libya's oil installations in the past days. They are now back in control of the main oil terminals in the east -- Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, and Zueitina, while Tobruk was in their hand from the beginning of the uprising. Gaddafi appears to be retrenching in the west. The coastal complexes at Ras Lanouf and Brega were responsible for a large chunk of Libya's 1.5 million barrels of daily exports. But production is at a trickle at the moment. The foreign oil workers and their vital expertise have fled after the uprising began.

Rebels said on Sunday they now had their sights on the coastal town of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown and an important military base about 150 km  further along the coast.The advance along Libya's Mediterranean coast by a poorly armed and uncoordinated force of volunteer rebels suggested that Western strikes under a U.N. no-fly zone were shifting the battlefield dynamics dramatically, in the east at least.
In Misrata, residents reported fighting between rebels and Gadhafi loyalists who fired from tanks on residential areas. Misrata is one of two cities in western Libya that have risen against the regime and suffered brutal crackdowns. It is located between Tripoli and Sirte on the coastal road.
On Sunday, NATO agreed to take full command of military operations in Libya after a week of heated negotiations, officials said, as Washington seeks to scale back its role in another Muslim country after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Western air strikes had "eliminated" Gaddafi's ability to move his heavy weapons.

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