Rebels re­treat from Ras Lanouf

The Financial Daily - - ECONOMY & CONTINUATION -

BREGA, Libya: Rebels re­treated Wed­nes­day from the key Libyan oil port of Ras Lanouf along the coastal road lead­ing to the cap­i­tal Tripoli af­ter they came un­der heavy shelling from ground forces loyal to leader Moam­mar Gaddafi.

Nato planes flew over the zone where the heav­i­est fight­ing was un­der way and for­eign me­dia re­ported ex­plo­sions, in­di­cat­ing a new wave of airstrikes against Gaddafi's forces.

Nato has in­ter­vened in the Libyan con­flict with near daily airstrikes to weaken the regime's su­pe­rior mil­i­tary power vis-à-vis the poorly trained and badly equipped rag­tag rebel army.

A rebel near the front lines told the AP that the op­po­si­tion fight­ers with­drew from Ras Lanouf rather than fight­ing the regime forces who were clos­ing in on them.

US Marine Corps Capt Clint Ge­bke, a spokesman for the NATO op­er­a­tion aboard the USS Mount Whit­ney, said he could not con­firm any spe­cific strikes but said that west­ern air­craft were en­gag­ing proGaddafi forces.

"The joint task force is still sup­port­ing the civil­ians on the ground via sor­ties," he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

With the help of Nato airstrikes ear­lier in the week, rebel who con­trol the east­ern half of Libya rapidly ad­vanced west­ward on the main coastal high­way that leads to Gaddafi's strong­hold in the cap­i­tal.

The got within 60 miles of the city of Sirte, Gaddafi's home­town and a bas­tion of sup­port for the long­time leader with a ma­jor mil­i­tary base.

At that point, they came un­der heavy bom­bard­ments by Gaddafi's ground forces, who out­gun the rebels in ev­ery way - in num­bers, equip­ment and train­ing.

On the of­fen­sive, gov­ern­ment tanks and ar­tillery have un­leashed a fierce bom­bard­ment on towns and cities which has usu­ally forced rebels to swiftly flee. That tac­tic ap­pears to have worked once again in Ras Lanuf, an oil ter­mi­nal town, 375-km east of the cap­i­tal Tripoli.

The Pen­tagon said 115 strike sor­ties had been flown against Gaddafi's forces in the pre­vi­ous 24 hours, and 22 Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles had been fired.

Bri­tain said two of its Tor­nado fighter-bombers had at­tacked a gov­ern­ment ar­mored ve­hi­cle and two ar­tillery pieces out­side the be­sieged west­ern town of Mis­rata.

Libya's of­fi­cial Jana of­fi­cial news agency said air strikes by forces of "the cru­sader colo­nial ag­gres­sion" hit res­i­den­tial ar­eas in the town of Garyan, about 100 km (60 miles) south of Tripoli.

UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973 sanc­tions air power to pro­tect Libyan civil­ians, not to pro­vide close air sup­port to rebel forces. That would also re­quire troops on the ground to guide in the bombs, es­pe­cially in such a rapidly chang­ing war.

United States and France have raised the pos­si­bil­ity of arm­ing the rebels, though both stressed no de­ci­sion had yet been taken. "I'm not rul­ing it in, I'm not rul­ing it out," U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama told NBC. Aid agen­cies are in­creas­ingly wor­ried about a lack of food and medicines, es­pe­cially in towns such as Mis­rata where a siege by Gaddafi's forces de­prives them of ac­cess. - Agen­cies

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