Libyan forces regroup ahead of final assault on Sirte

2011-09-16 09:14

Forces of Libya’s new leadership were regrouping today ahead of the expected final battle for the hometown of fugitive fallen strongman Muammar Gaddafi, after suffering heavy casualties.

An AFP correspondent at Hassan, some 60 kilometres west of the coastal city, one of Gaddafi’s holdout strongholds, said National Transitional Council forces were preparing there for the final assault on Sirte.

There were dozens of bakkies bristling with anti-aircraft guns and some with cannons, along with many trucks, some laden with ammunition.

“There are many different katibas (brigades) here. This is a back point to refuel,” Sadiq Fayturi, head of logistics of the Qabra Brigade, told AFP.

“Many of the katibas are about 20 kilometres south of Sirte in the villages of Jaraf and Egbeba.”

National Transitional Council fighters said today they had suffered heavy casualties in the struggle for Sirte, with at least 11 killed and 34 hurt.

“Initial statistics: 11 martyrs and 34 wounded,” an English-language statement by the Misrata Military Council said, adding that it had captured 40 Gaddafi loyalists.

According to the military council, their fighters stormed from three fronts yesterday into the Mediterranean city.

A military spokesperson, Fathi Bashaga, said a “big force” had entered Sirte.

“There is still resistance but our fighters will be able to overcome it,” he told AFP.

“They are attacking us with 40- and 43-mm mortars and all kinds of weapons.”

A convoy of battle-hardened fighters had set out from the port city of Misrata, some 150 kilometres west of Sirte, early yesterday before splitting at the crossroads town of Abu Qurin for a three-pronged attack on Sirte.

The military council said the convoy of more than 900 armoured cars aimed at “freeing the city and raising the banner of independence”.

Fighters on the ground today were upbeat.

“We are expecting more clashes with Gaddafi’s forces, but we hope to take all of Sirte today,” Salah al-Areg, a fighter with the Al-Wadi Brigade told AFP.

“There are also Gaddafi forces holed up in Wadi Jaraf, some 30 kilometres from Sirte.”

Fawzy Sawawy, commander of the Mountains Brigade, said yesterday: “We are turning the tables on Gaddafi. We were attacked in Misrata on three fronts, and now we’re going to attack Sirte on three fronts.”

At the so-called Gate 50 checkpoint, 50 kilometres west of Sirte, an AFP correspondent on Friday saw National Transitional Council forces burying the bodies of four people they said were pro-Gaddafi fighters killed in a Nato air strike on Thursday.

A blackened four-wheel-drive vehicle that had been pulverised was to one side of the road, and some 20 metres away the fighters were burying the bodies wrapped in blankets.

“When we were advancing yesterday Nato struck ahead of us, and when we came forward we found the bodies,” said one, Walid al-Juder.

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