News / Middle East

Libya's NTC Forces Take Most of Gadhafi Stronghold

An anti-Gaddafi fighter reads the Koran at a checkpoint north of Bani Walid. (file photo)
An anti-Gaddafi fighter reads the Koran at a checkpoint north of Bani Walid. (file photo)

Libya's NTC forces are claiming to have taken most of the town of Bani Walid, where loyalists to former leader Moammar Gadhafi have been holed up and mounting a spirited resistance since late August. Fierce resistance by Gadhafi loyalists continues, however, in the coastal enclave of Sirte.

Interim government forces fired shells and mortar bombs at a pocket of resistance inside the coastal town of Sirte Monday, amid fierce fighting by a small but tenacious band of loyalists to Mr. Gadhafi. Farther south, interim government forces are claiming to control 85 percent of the Gadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid.

Reports say the Warfalla tribe, Libya's largest, is trying to negotiate the surrender of Bani Walid with the NTC. The tribe, to which Mr. Gadhafi's wife belongs, is seeking a deal with Libya's new rulers.

Col. Abdullah Naker, who heads the Tripoli Revolutionary Council told journalists that NTC fighters have taken the center of Bani Walid, where they raised the flag of the new interim government.

Naker says NTC forces are making progress in finishing off resistance from Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte, but he is worried that one of Mr. Gadhafi's sons, who is leading the resistance there, might find a way to escape the city.

NTC gains, however, may be short-lived.

Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at the University of Exeter in Britain, says the new interim government has a weak national army and that most of the country is controlled by hundreds of small militias.

“There is a national army more or less controlled by Gen. Suleiman Mahmoud of Tobruk. The problem with it is that it's not the only armed force in Libya right now and it has very limited influence on possibly 100 or so armed militias. In Tripoli, you have a militia controlling part of the north, another militia controlling part of the south, a third militia controlling the airport, and obviously this makes things very decentralized and at some points chaotic.”

Libya's new leaders have said they will begin the political process of forming a democratic government once they have captured Sirte. But Ashour worries how armed factions could hinder that process.

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