Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bir Al-Ghanam

Rebels in captured town plan push towards Tripoli

Tue Aug 9, 2011 8:12am GMT

by Michael Georgy

BIR AL-GHANAM, Libya, Aug 8 - Libyan rebels who seized the town of Bir al-Ghanam 80 km (50 miles) south of Tripoli said on Monday they would push on towards the capital, Muammar Gaddafi's stronghold, but expected a tough fight.

The small desert settlement is now the closest rebel position to Tripoli and its capture at the weekend is likely to inject some new momentum into a six-month campaign to oust Gaddafi which has been faltering over the past few weeks.

Anti-Gaddafi fighters had been camped since late June on heights overlooking the town, unable to advance. According to rebels in the town on Monday, they moved in on Saturday under cover from NATO warplanes.

They said their next target was Zawiyah, a town on the Mediterranean coast 50 km west of Tripoli.

Zawiyah was the scene of two failed uprisings against Gaddafi's rule since February. Many of the fighters in Bir al-Ghanam are from there, although many of those who took part in uprisings are now in government prisons or dead.

"Our aim is to get to Zawiyah. Once we do that Gaddafi is finished," said rebel fighter Murad Bada, who was sitting under the shade of a tree and humming a song about Zawiyah.
Rebel progress on the battlefield has been slower than Western countries expected when they began air strikes against Gaddafi in March. The rebels have been hampered by divisions, revealed starkly 12 days ago when their military chief was assassinated in circumstances yet to be fully explained.

Libyan rebels on Monday dissolved their executive committee, or cabinet, after what they described as "administrative errors" in the handling of the shooting of Abdel Fattah Younes.

The 14-member committee, including officials responsible for defence and interior affairs, was sacked and a new one will be nominated by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, said National Transitional Council (NTC) media director Shamsiddin Abdulmolah.

Younes was killed on July 28 after being taken into custody by his own side for questioning, throwing into question NTC unity just as it was winning broader international recognition.

"They've all been dismissed," Abdulmolah told Reuters. "There were administrative errors that they were held responsible for."

Opposition leaders linked the killing of Younes, a former interior minister under Gaddafi who defected early in the revolt, to elements loyal to the Libyan leader.


The capture of Bir al-Ghanam was the biggest rebel breakthrough in weeks of largely static fighting on three fronts across Libya. But that alone is not enough to undermine Gaddafi's grip on power.

The small rebel force approaching from the south could face much stiffer resistance as it draws nearer to the capital, where Gaddafi's troops are concentrated and where he can count on a certain level of popular support.

The rebel advance elsewhere has been hampered by divisions and infighting, as well as a lack of experience in warfare.

Abdelsalam, a rebel spokesman in Misrata, another rebel stronghold west of Benghazi, said one fighter was killed in a shelling attack in Dafiniya, a village on the road to Zlitan, the next major town in Gaddafi's hands on the road to Tripoli.

"There is progress on the front, but it is very slow. Entering Zlitan is very tricky. We are trying to enter ... from open farmland. We also need an uprising against Gaddafi's forces by residents in Zlitan. Taking Zlitan and advancing toward Tripoli is going to take months if not years," he said.

Rebel officials in the east said they had created a security force to protect oil installations, a step which could allow them to resume crude exports and earn badly-needed income.

The rebels stopped pumping oil to Mediterranean Sea export terminals under their control after pro-Gaddafi raiding parties attacked oil facilities in the desert. A spokesman in the stronghold of Benghazi said an armed force had been created to protect the oil fields, equipped with night-vision equipment.


Libya's prime minister on Sunday said government forces were in control of Bir al-Ghanam after fighting off a rebel attack. But in the town early on Monday, the only sign of government forces was the weaponry they had left behind when they fled.

Three tanks were burned out. One still on a transporter lay next to a deep crater apparently caused by a NATO air strike.

One fighter said five rebel fighters were killed taking the town, including a Libyan-American father and son, part of a large contingent of foreigners with Libyan roots who have come back to fight against Gaddafi.

Rebels Enter Zlitan

Bombing campaign destroys Gaddafi tanks, rocket launchers, ammunition dumps and command centres

But securing the town for the opposition depends on clearing one final obstacle – agreement from the elders of the town's Fowater tribe that Misratan fighters can be "invited" to occupy Zlitan.

Chris Stephen in Misrata and Richard Norton-Taylor Guardian.co.uk

Libyan rebels have entered the town of Zlitan after a weekend of heavy fighting in which Nato escalated its bombing campaign in the runup to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

RAF planes dropped 16 Paveway laser-guided bombs in two days around the town, destroying government tanks, rocket launchers, ammunition dumps and command centres, and clearing a path for the rebels.

The Ministry of Defence said RAF jets also attacked a railway construction site at Bani Walid, south-west of Zlitan, commandeered for use as a military fuel distribution facility.

Opposition fighters said the town, which they have struggled to capture for eight weeks, was quiet on Monday, with no sign of government troops. We are in the town centre and we have the hospital," said rebel fighter Yunus Al-Haq. "It's good for the spirit."

But securing the town for the opposition depends on clearing one final obstacle – agreement from the elders of the town's Fowater tribe that Misratan fighters can be "invited" to occupy Zlitan.

After that, rebel commanders expect government forces to pull back to Al Khums, 22 miles to the west. Despite the capture of tanks and heavy artillery over the weekend, rebel units are too lightly armed to contemplate a headlong rush to Tripoli. They have evolved a strategy of pressing against government lines, forcing Muammar Gaddafi to deploy forces in concentrations that provide inviting targets for Nato.

Nato bombing returns show that 54 military targets around Zlitan were destroyed since 25 July, one of the heaviest bombing concentrations of the war. The bombing appears to have caused government lines to crumble over the week, with rebels reporting that loyalist troops offered little resistance to their advance. Forty government troops gave themselves up on Sunday in the biggest one-day surrender of the war.

RAF Tornado and Typhoon aircraft were particularly active over the past few days, bombing of three satellite dishes used by Libyan state television. "This strike was an attempt to disrupt the broadcast of Gaddafi's murderous rhetoric, which has repeatedly sought to incite violence against fellow Libyans," said the chief military spokesman at the Ministry of Defence, Major General Nick Pope.

But British defence officials said the Nato campaign was likely to be scaled down during Ramadan, which started on Monday. They suggested that targets in Tripoli in particular would be avoided.

The fall of Zlitan also poses problems for Gaddafi in finding new troops to hold the expanding front line around Misrata without drawing off other forces needed on the eastern front and in the Nafusa mountains to the west. Both fronts were reportedly quiet on Monday, the eastern front still disrupted by confusion caused by Thursday's murder of army commander Abdul Fatah Youness and the Nafusa brigades massing for an attack on the town of Tiji, 150 miles south west of Tripoli. The onset of Ramadan saw Misrata go into semi-hibernation, and residents are hoping the capture of Zlitan will finally put Gaddafi's rockets out of range of a city that has been under bombardment since March.

France announced on Monday that it was releasing $259m (£159.14m) in frozen Libyan funds to the opposition and allowing the rebels' new ambassador to use the country's mothballed embassy in Paris.

The French foreign ministry said the money frozen in French banks must be used for humanitarian purposes, in accordance with European law.

The announcement came after the foreign finister, Alain Juppe, met Mansour Seyf al-Nasr, the Libyan opposition's ambassador to Paris.

No comments:

Post a Comment