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Libyan Rebels Move West As Coalition Airstrikes Cripple Gadhafi’s Forces

  • Douglas Mpuga

Libyan rebels pushed further west Sunday recapturing four more towns, just one day after seizing two key towns following a week of coalition airstrikes that have forced pro-government troops to retreat.

They seized the eastern coastal towns of Ras Lanuf, Brega, Uqayla and Bin Jawad after pro-Gaddafi forces - under pressure from allied air strikes - withdrew.

The rebels also re-captured the port of Ajdabiya on Saturday.

US, French, British and other allied aircraft started attacking Libyan government troops eight days ago.

“So far what they [rebels] have covered is a territory that was under the rebels, so it was relatively speaking easier”, said Walid Phares, an expert on the Middle East and author of "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.

The more difficult stage, he said, “is going to come when they enter the actual Gadhafi territory.”

Phares said with the support of the Coalition forces the rebels are likely to continue to advance but all this will depend on what happens when the rebels reach Sirte.

Sirte, he added, “is the birthplace of Gadhafi and this where the tribes that are supportive of Gadhafi are settled. So we are going to watch if the rebels are welcome there or if there is going to be resistance.”

Phares also pointed out the composition and structure of the rebel force. The interim national council, he said, “is headed by former bureaucrats, politicians and some military.

The council that leads the military forces is led by former high ranking officers of the Libyan army.”

He noted that “there is a third force –the militia – which is composed of local population and more organized islamists militia that have been recently formed.”

“The forces of the regular rebels,” he added, “are small and need training but the militia is opposed to the training because they do not want NATO forces on the ground.”

Phares said chances for a peaceful settlement will depend on what happens to Sirte. “It will be determined by what happens on the ground. I think Sirte is the line that will decide it."

Libyan government officials met with envoys from five other African nations in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, on Friday. African Union members called for a cease-fire in Libya and an end to Western-led coalition airstrikes and naval blockades of the North African state.

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