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Libya's rebels are preparing for an all-out assault on the parts of Tripoli still in the hands of Muammar Qaddafi's regime, aiming to wipe out the last bit of resistance to total rebel control of the city.
But a swift rebel victory over Qaddafi loyalists, both in Tripoli and in other pockets of the country still firmly in the grip of regime supporters, is not by any means a foregone conclusion, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Rebels' continuing difficulty in bringing Libya under control raises the specter of a longer conflict – with the Gadhafi regime's collapse potentially launching a new stage of unraveling in a tribal country with strong regional differences. Some rebel leaders and Western officials worry that, particularly as Col. Gadhafi eludes capture, his well-trained fighters could launch an armed insurgency from bases such as Sirte, the home base of Col. Gadhafi's tribe.
In preparation for what Reuters is calling the "final phase" of the battle for Tripoli, rebels were making plans today to take out the snipers posted throughout the city. However, the most-wanted target, Mr. Qaddafi, remains elusive.
Rebel commanders say they believe Qaddafi is still in Tripoli, barricaded in one of the few areas of the city his loyalists still control. US officials have said they also believe he is in the capital. There are as many as 40 compounds he could be hiding in – most of which are in Tripoli, according to The Washington Post.
The US has been vague about what its role will be in the search for Qaddafi. One official told the Post that the US would try to provide intelligence, but the US has repeatedly denied that it will send any personnel to help. Reuters reports that NATO is assisting with intelligence and reconnaissance.
The Daily Telegraph reports that British special forces (SAS) are on the ground helping the rebels track down Qaddafi and have been in Libya for several weeks, helping orchestrate the rebels' assault on Tripoli. The Telegraph's information has not been confirmed by other news outlets and according to The New York Times, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox would not comment.
On Wednesday, National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil offered a $1.7 million bounty for Qaddafi but also said that if he resigned, the rebels would allow him to travel to another country, The Christian Science Monitor reports. The decision is likely to anger many of the Libyans who want to see him tried and sentenced in a Libyan court, but Mr. Jalil said that permitting Qaddafi to go into exile would likely avert more bloodshed, according to the Post.
Meanwhile, some rebel forces are moving toward Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte, one of a few population centers still in his hands. The BBC reports that the rebels have faced strong resistance from Qaddafi loyalists on both the eastern and western approaches to the city.
The New York Times reports that the rebels are also moving on Sabha, Qaddafi's southern stronghold.
A rebel military spokesman speculated to the Journal that Qaddafi may be traveling in the loyalist-controlled zone between the coastal city of Sirte and the interior city of Sabha.
As military action continues, the rebels and their Western allies are also working rapidly to free up Libyan assets abroad that were frozen in order to put pressure on Qaddafi. The rebel government is extremely short on funds and, according to most reports, the country is facing dire shortages of necessities, particularly medical supplies.
Reuters reports that fighting in Tripoli has prevented fresh shipments of medical supplies from reaching the city and deterred many medical workers from coming to work. There have been hundreds of casualties in the fighting and not enough people to treat the wounded who are streaming into the city's hospitals.