Anti-Gaddafi fighters pounded in Bani Walid

A Libyan National Transitional Council fighter looking through binoculars near the frontline in the outskirts of Bani Walid yesterday. Photo: AFP

A Libyan National Transitional Council fighter looking through binoculars near the frontline in the outskirts of Bani Walid yesterday. Photo: AFP

Anti-Gaddafi fighters yesterday appealed for help from Nato after being blasted by rockets fired by loyalist troops in Bani Walid, one of the ousted Libyan leader’s last bastions.

Among 11 National Transitional Council fighters killed in the barrage was senior commander Daou al-Salhine al-Jadak, whose car was struck by a rocket as he headed towards the front late on Tuesday, NTC chief negotiator Abdullah Kenshil said.

At the front yesterday, fighters were coming under artillery and rocket fire from pro-Gaddafi forces, an AFP correspondent said.

Despite heavy use of tanks, rocket launchers and artillery, the NTC forces had not advanced from positions held for the past few days.

NTC field commander Captain Walid Khaimej said the fierce resistance of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists had stalled the advance by NTC fighters in the desert town, some 170 kilometres from Tripoli.

“There is always incoming missile and artillery fire. We are returning fire with heavy weapons but we are not sending in infantry. We are waiting for reinforcements to come from Tripoli and Zawiyah,” said Capt. Khaimej.

“Nato is here but is not doing enough. They take out the rocket launchers firing at us, but they are immediately replaced. We need more help from Nato,” he added.

The military alliance has under a UN mandate being giving air support to a popular revolt against Col Gaddafi which was launched in February and forced the former strongman out of Tripoli and into hiding last month. It has scaled down the intensity of its strikes, saying in operational updates that it has taken out targets in Bani Walid on just one of the past three days.

Nato said in its latest statement issued yesterday that it made only one key hit anywhere in Libya the day before, when it struck an ammunition and vehicle storage facility in Sirte.

On the front in Bani Walid, exhausted fighters said they were desperate for reinforcements and air support.

“We need more firepower, more artillery, more tanks. The infantry cannot move in because whoever tries gets taken out,” said fighter Ahmed Hamza, a 22-year-old Libyan who was studying in Scotland before returning to the country to fight for the NTC.

“What we really need is more strikes from Nato. Nato is only hitting once or twice or day, that’s not enough,” Mr Hamza said.

Capt. Khaimej said Bani Walid was proving particularly difficult to take because pro-Gaddafi fighters had the high ground, behind a ravine that was preventing NTC vehicles from advancing. “We are in a very hard situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, dozens of fighters of Libya’s new rulers swooped down on an unfinished industrial complex in Sirte yesterday and made off with lorries full of ammunition stored there by forces of Col Gaddafi.

At a deserted desert complex on the southeast outskirts of Sirte, row upon row of unfinished cement rooms contained boxes of machine-guns cartridges, rocket-propelled-grenades and Grad rockets, an AFP correspondent taken to the site by the fighters reported. On a separate note, Libya’s new authorities are “ready to cooperate” if they are asked to provide people for questioning over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, the NTC’s justice minister said yesterday.

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