Libya's rebels stage bold offensive on oil town of Brega

Taking Brega, a strategic oil port in eastern Libya, would be a key victory for the rebels, who lost the town to Qaddafi's troops months ago.

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
Libyan rebels drive towards the Brega frontline from Ajdabiya to battle loyalist troops in eastern Libya on July 14.

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Libya's rebels have advanced on the town of Brega, a strategically important oil port in eastern Libya that has been held by Qaddafi's forces since March. While reports conflict on whether they now have complete control of the town, the offensive is seen as one of their most ambitious to date.

According to BBC, one rebel spokesman said that they were in charge of the northeastern section of the town and were staging an offensive in the southwestern section. Agence France-Presse reports that the rebels were engaged in close-range combat within Brega, but that poorly coordinated advances and the resulting losses prompted them to pause their assault in order to regroup for a more organized offensive.

"Some small groups have made it inside, but we do not control the whole (town) yet," rebel spokesman Mohammed Zawi said, according to AFP. "It is now close fighting."

CNN reports that the troops fielded thousands of landmines along the approaches to Brega as well as an intentional fire fed continuously by an oil pipeline, which slowed their advance. An expedition group entered the city ahead of the bulk of the troops and clashed with Qaddafi's forces. According to the CNN report, the troops are now about five miles from the town.

According to Reuters, which reports that the rebels have booted most of Qaddafi's forces from the town, his troops mostly retreated to Ras Lanuf, a town to the west of Brega.

The Guardian reports that the Brega offensive is one of the rebels' most ambitious and has been bolstered by NATO air attacks.

On Friday, Nato jets – soon to be bolstered by four extra Tornados from the UK – destroyed 14 military vehicles at Brega, compared with 17 destroyed there during the previous six days.

The rebel push on Brega is one of the most ambitious of the war, with newly trained units launching a three-pronged attack. While a central advance is struggling to clear minefields near Brega, other units have enveloped government forces from the north and south. The rebel forces say 10 fighters have died and 170 were wounded. Tripoli has released no casualty figures of its own.

Meanwhile, Russia criticized the United States' decision to recognize the rebel government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, saying the move is a clear sign that the US has taken sides in a civil war, the Guardian reports.

"Supporters of such a decision are supporters of a policy of isolation, in this case the isolation of those forces that represent Tripoli," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Moscow is in contact with both Tripoli and the rebels, he said, and has recognized the NTC as a negotiating partner, but nothing further.

Russia has been wary of foreign intervention in Libya from the outset – it abstained, along with China, from voting on the United Nations resolution that authorized a foreign military intervention in Libya and afterward became a vocal critic of the mission.

Mr. Lavrov was careful to emphasize that despite Russia's opposition to intervention and US recognition, Russia would not offer Qaddafi asylum should he choose to step down, RIA Novosti reports.

NATO launched a predawn air raid on a Tripoli suburb, reportedly targeting warehouses of tanks, troops carriers, and ammunition in Tajoura, about 10 miles from central Tripoli.

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