Rebels retreat from Ras Lanouf
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