Qaddafi loyalists hold tight to strongholds of Bani Walid and Sirte

Fighters loyal to former leader Muammar Qaddafi continue to repel advances on the key strongholds of Bani Walid and Sirte, raising questions as to just how long it will take to end the war in Libya.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP
Anti-Qaddafi fighters observe rocket fire outside Bani Walid, Libya on Saturday.

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New fighting has erupted near Bani Walid, one of the last holdouts of the regime loyalists in Libya, as the forces loyal to former leader Muammar Qaddafi continued to repel the revolutionary fighters.

The fighters who support the National Transitional Council (NTC) have been trying for weeks to take Bani Walid, south of Tripoli, and the coastal city of Sirte to bring the war to a close. But what they predicted would be an easy fight has instead stymied them as the heavily-armed Qaddafi loyalists appear to be fighting ferociously to the end.

The Associated Press reports that Qaddafi’s forces shelled revolutionaries at the north gate of Bani Walid Sunday. They also tried to ambush the fighters, who are stretched thin and in low spirits after weeks of unsuccessful fighting, according to the AP. The revolutionaries sent reinforcements from Tajoura to try to turn the tide in the key city, where Qaddafi’s forces hold the strategic high ground. A BBC map shows the valley dividing the town, terrain that has made the attack difficult for revolutionary forces.

The revolutionaries were also preparing Sunday to advance again on Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown and another regime holdout, after three days of heavy fighting there, reports Reuters. If Sirte falls, the transitional government woud control Libya’s entire coast. Sirte now divides their territory between Tripoli in the west and their former defacto capital of Benghazi in the east.

Fierce resistance in Sirte

Agence France-Presse reports that the revolutionary forces retreated Saturday after pushing into the city and encountering fierce resistance.

Qaddafi’s forces pounded them with rockets, heavy artillery, and sniper fire, killing at least 24 of the fighters and wounding 40. The BBC reports that the NTC’s military spokesman said the revolutionaries had taken the airport and a major air base. But AFP reports that the fighters on the ground acknowledge a tougher reality.

"We don’t even have five percent of Sirte because we just go in and out," fighter Abdul Rauf al-Mansuri told AFP. He said the commanders’ statements were incorrect, and that the fighters lost their advantage by pulling out at night.

Qaddafi urges loyalists to fight on

While the NTC forces struggled to oust Qaddafi’s loyalists, a pro-Qaddafi radio station in Sirte aired a message purportedly from the former leader himself, urging his people to fight on.

"You must resist fiercely. You must kick them out of Sirte," the voice said, according to AP. "If they get inside Sirte, they are going to rape the women."

Loyalists: We can fight for months

Qaddafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, who is thought to be in Bani Walid, spoke Friday with a Syrian pro-Qaddafi television channel. "We have the ability to continue this resistance for months," he said.

But the transitional government pressed ahead with the duties of governing a new Libya, though it is not yet fully under their control.

The AP reported that the NTC planned a press conference Sunday to announce the members of a new cabinet. NTC leaders had previously said they would not name a new cabinet until the fighting was over and they had declared Libya fully liberated.

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