x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Qaddafi's troops have fled Brega, say rebels

Rebels said they had chased the bulk of Qaddafi's eastern army from Brega, a claim denied by the government, while encircling loyalists holed up among oil installations in the northwest of the town.

Libyan rebel fighters shoot in the air and shout religious slogans as they attend the funeral of seven fallen comrades killed the day before during the battle for the control of Brega, at the main cemetery in Benghazi yesterday. Gianluigi Guercia / AFP Photo
Libyan rebel fighters shoot in the air and shout religious slogans as they attend the funeral of seven fallen comrades killed the day before during the battle for the control of Brega, at the main cemetery in Benghazi yesterday. Gianluigi Guercia / AFP Photo

BENGHAZI // Libya's rebels increased their offensive yesterday, pushing Colonel Muammar Qaddafi's troops into retreat in the east and preparing a fresh attack from the south of Tripoli.

Rebels said they had chased the bulk of Colonel Qaddafi's eastern army from the oil town of Brega - a claim denied by the government - while encircling loyalists holed up among oil installations in the northwest of the town.

As part of what now appears to be a countrywide effort to tighten the noose on Colonel Qaddafi before Ramadan begins around August 1, insurgents in the west said they were awaiting orders to start a fresh offensive from the Nafusa Mountains southwest of the capital.

During Ramadan, the endurance of even the hardiest volunteers could be tested by desert battle without food and water during the daytime fast observed by the faithful.

But at Brega, rebel gains were stymied by vast quantities of anti-personnel mines planted by retreating loyalist forces and the difficulties in attacking an estimated 200 Qaddafi troops fighting from near vital petrochemical facilities.

That difficulty was laid bare late on Tuesday, when 24 rebel fighters died. It was by far the rebels' bloodiest day since the battle for Brega began almost a week ago.

A rebel military source said many of the casualties came when troops closing in on isolated Qaddafi forces were hit by a line-guided rocket attack.

Outside the town, rebel troops cleared minefields holding up their advance, while trying to dislodge Qaddafi's artillery to the west.

Rebel military sources said some Qaddafi forces were arcing rockets over Brega onto rebel positions from the town of Bishr, while most troops had retreated to Ras Lanuf, another oil town further west.

The rebels said Qaddafi troops inside Brega were largely conscripts and volunteers. "The elite troops have left. The soldiers left in the city are stuck," said Abdulrazag Elaradi, a National Transitional Council member visiting the front. "They cannot go forward because they will be killed by the rebels and they cannot go back because they will be killed by Qaddafi's men."