Troops launch final offensive on Gaddafi hometown
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Libyan revolutionary forces launched a major offensive on Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown and last bastion, Sirte, Tuesday, after capturing the desert city of Bani Walid the day before.
AP – About 1,000 Libyan revolutionary troops launched a major assault on Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown on Tuesday, surging from the east to try to capture the last area under loyalist control.
The push to rout the remaining resistance from Sirte came a day after commanders announced they had captured most of a second stronghold, Bani Walid.
While welcoming successes in Bani Walid, Libya’s new leaders have said they would only declare liberation after the fall of Sirte, which would have symbolic value as well as give them control of the country’s ports and harbors.
Revolutionary fighters have been locked in battle in Sirte and suffering heavy casualties after launching what they said would be an all-out final assault on Oct. 7.
Libyan fighters have squeezed the die-hard Gadhafi supporters into an area comprising just a few blocks but have been unable to gain full control of the city.
It has been more than two months since the former rebels gained control of the capital and much of the rest of the oil-rich North African nation. Persistent fighting has prevented Libya’s new leaders from declaring final victory and setting a timeline for elections.
Fighters who have been besieging Bani Walid, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli, for weeks have finally gained control of the city center, which was deserted on Tuesday. Buildings were pockmarked from bullets and rocket fire. The only doctors in the main hospital were foreigners.
A revolutionary commander on the scene, Ali Abdel-Rahman, said fighters were able to gain control over Bani Walid on Sunday evening after receiving much-needed ammunition and supplies the day before. He said they faced little resistance, although three revolutionary fighters were killed.
“We didn’t find a regular army but only loyalists of Gadhafi, snipers with automatic weapons,” he said. “Some of the Gadhafi brigades took off their uniforms and vanished.”
He said even families had fled the area. “There was a widespread perception that there would be a massacre here and pools of blood, but on the contrary, it was very bloodless, swift and with no resistance.”
That has been the pattern throughout the eight month conflict that began as an uprising against Gadhafi’s repressive rule of nearly 42 years. His opponents have frequently faced fierce resistance from within cities only to find the areas largely abandoned after they enter, raising the prospect that Gadhafi’s supporters could flee and wage an insurgency.
The longtime leader has been on the run since Tripoli fell in late August and he has issued several audio recordings trying to rally supporters from his hiding place.
NATO has pledged to continue airstrikes for as long as necessary, saying pro-Gadhafi forces continue to pose a threat to civilians in Libya. The alliance said it hit a command center comprising nine vehicles near Bani Walid on Monday.
There also have been reports of looting as revolutionary forces closed in on the two areas that have waged the fiercest resistance.
Abdel-Rahman said field commanders were meeting to try to find a solution to the problem in Bani Walid, including the possibility of sealing off all the gates to the city. He insisted the fighters who liberated Bani Walid were not to blame but said some who came later to comb the area were stealing goods from houses.
“The fighters who liberated Bani Walid are not the ones who looted the houses, but the fighters who came later on to comb the area. They stole and looted from houses,” he said.