Libya struggles with transition amid protracted battle for Sirte, Bani Walid

Libya's transitional forces say they have entered Bani Walid and contained pro-Qaddafi fighters in Sirte. Meanwhile, concerns are emerging about a possible insurgency fueled by Qaddafi loyalists.

Saad Shalash/Reuters
Anti-Qaddafi fighters fire from a tank towards pro-Qaddafi forces during clashes in Sirte, Libya, Monday.

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While the battle for Muammar Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte continues, Libya's transitional forces claim to have entered Bani Walid, the only other significant town in the country still openly loyal to Mr. Qaddafi.

The fight for both cities has been protracted, preventing the National Transitional Council (NTC) from declaring total control of the country and from beginning the transition process in earnest.

It's unclear how far into Bani Walid the rebel fighters have reached. The commander of the NTC forces, Jamal Salem, told the BBC that they entered the town limits amid fierce resistance from town residents. There were unverified reports that they had reached the town center. NTC fighters told Al Jazeera that they hold 60 percent of the town. Previous attempts at advancing on the city were thwarted by heavy fire from within the city.

In Sirte, the rebel forces have managed to contain the Qaddafi loyalists still fighting in about one square mile of the city, which they are bombarding from other points in the town, Reuters reports. NTC fighters indicate they are are eager to advance on the pocket of resistance, but told Reuters they have not yet received orders.

The slow progress is beginning to frustrate NTC fighters, who are beginning to accuse their leaders of intentionally delaying bringing an end to the battle in Sirte in order to buy more time for political issues to be worked out, according to Reuters. Others say it is simply a matter of being ill-prepared.

"We are civilians, we not military people," NTC field commander, Mohammed al Sabty, said. "We don't have a certain plan."

Once NTC fighters gain total control of Sirte, many of them will be sent to Bani Walid to back up fighters there, CNN reports.

Meanwhile, a flash of fighting in Tripoli has Libyan leaders worried about an insurgency, Reuters reports. On Friday, in the first armed resistance since the NTC took over the city, a few dozen Qaddafi loyalist fighters appeared and began chanting pro-Qaddafi slogans. They fought with the NTC fighters who arrived to put down the demonstration. On Sunday, the NTC set up additional roadblocks and conducted house-to-house searches.

There's also concern about a dormant insurgency in Sirte, which the Washington Post reports has been largely destroyed.

For Libya’s interim government, capturing the city is paramount and would effectively end the eight-month civil war. But the damage wreaked in Sirte raises the question of whether its residents will go quietly into the post-Gaddafi future — or retain a smoldering anger that could fuel an insurgency.

Under Gaddafi, Sirte grew from a sleepy fishing village to a city of 100,000, favored with some of the country’s finest buildings and public services. Many residents were staunch supporters of the former Libyan leader.

One of them, Sadina Muhammed, said Saturday that she and other residents “will love Gaddafi until death.”

British Foreign Minister William Hague arrived in Libya today to meet with the NTC and urge them to move more quickly toward ending the civil war and forming an interim government, the Guardian reports.

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