Rebels wary of Gaddafi forces near east Libya town

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 1:19 PM
Rebels wary of Gaddafi forces near east Libya town

By Mohammed Abbas and Angus MacSwan

NEAR AJDABIYAH, Libya (Reuters) - Rebels in east Libya outside Ajdabiyah said on Tuesday concerns that heavily armed troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi could still overwhelm them were stopping them advancing on the strategic town.

Rebels at the frontline about 5 km (3 miles) outside the town located at the gateway to the rebel-held east said three nights of air strikes were helping cripple Gaddafi's heavy armor, but his forces were still a potent threat.

"Gaddafi has tanks and trucks with missiles," said Ahmed al-Aroufi, a rebel fighter at the frontline.

Al Jazeera television reported clashes in the town between Gaddafi forces and the rebels.

The rebel leadership in Benghazi said Gaddafi's forces held the western and eastern gates of the city and said the rebel frontline was still a few km (miles) away from the town.

A few shells landed near rebel positions on the frontline.

The rebel forces had been driven as far back as their headquarters in Benghazi by Gaddafi's warplanes, tanks and artillery before U.N.-air strikes were launched on Saturday by France, Britain, the United States and others in a coalition.

"We need the no-fly zone for them to strike the heavy armor," he said, adding a warning against any more direct intervention.

"If they bring land forces we will leave Gaddafi alone and they will be our new target," Aroufi said, echoing rebel opposition to any involvement of foreign ground forces.

"We don't depend on anyone but God, not France or America. We started this revolution without them through the sweat of our own brow, and that is how we will finish it."

There have been signs of tensions at the front as rebels have failed to make swift progress. There is no obvious sign of a clear command structure to guide what is mostly a rag-tag force of enthusiastic but inexperienced fighters.

Overhearing Aroufi speaking to Reuters, another rebel nearby, Rashad Shaafi, said: "If you want to attack, go and flank them, or do you just want to pose for the cameras?"

Gaddafi's burned out tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles destroyed by Western warplanes litter the road that his forces used on their advance on Benghazi, where the rebels have their headquarters.

Rebels say strikes halted that offensive but they also say the Libyan leader has plenty more equipment to use against their forces which rely largely on 4x4 pick ups mounted with machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers and other light arms.

There was no obvious sign of rebel heavy equipment at the front on Monday, although in past days and weeks rebels have been seen with a few tanks and other heavier equipment.

(Writing by Edmund Blair in Cairo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)