Air strikes hit Libyan towns, army pushed back: rebels

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 3:53 PM
Air strikes hit Libyan towns, army pushed back: rebels

By Mohammed Abbas

BREGA, Libya (Reuters) - Air strikes targeted the airport of the oil terminal town of Brega in east Libya on Thursday and a rebel position in the nearby town of Ajdabiyah, a rebel officer said, referring to two rebel-held locations.

Opposition soldiers also said troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi had been pushed back to Ras Lanuf, home to another major oil terminal and 600 km (375 miles) east of Tripoli, a day after loyalists launched a ground attack on Brega that was repulsed.

"Gaddafi's forces are in Ras Lanuf," Mohammed al-Maghrabi, a rebel volunteer, told Reuters, echoing comments by others.

Rebel Captain Bashir Abdul Gadr, speaking outside Brega, said: "Gaddafi's forces are at Ras Lanuf, there are many of them. Our forces are in Brega and al-Ugayla."

He added: "There have just been air strikes in Brega at the airport and in Ajdabiyah on our forces at the western gate."

Libyan rebels armed with rocket launchers, anti-tank aircraft guns and tanks shored up defenses at Ajdabiyah on Thursday to guard against any new attack by Gaddafi.

Some rebel soldiers showed more enthusiasm than experience at handling arms, struggling under the weight of the rounds or working out how to use more advanced weapons, determined to hold their ground in Ajdabiyah, home to a military arms dump.

Gaddafi loyalists bombed Ajdabiyah from the air on Wednesday and ground forces stabbed at Brega, a town on the Mediterranean with a major oil terminal that is about 780 km (490 miles) east of Tripoli. The offensive was swiftly repulsed.

At one entrance to Ajdabiyah, rebels worked through the night to consolidate defenses, adding rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft guns. Rebels also manned three tanks.

"Praise God we have weapons," said rebel fighter Drees Abdulwahid, 42, smiling and raising both hands to the sky.

Another rebel fighter said he had four days training in how to use an anti-aircraft gun. Others struggled to load the belts of 10-inch long bullets into the weapon. One young man staggered under the weight of the belt.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas, Writing by Edmund Blair and Peter Millership in Cairo; Editing by Giles Elgood)