Africa

Libya revolt: Rebels grab Ajdabiya from Gaddafi

  • 26 March 2011
  • From the section Africa

Libyan rebels backed by extensive allied air raids have seized control of the frontline oil town of Ajdabiya from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

Insurgents celebrated amid the ruins of tanks and artillery pieces and then moved west to the town of Brega.

Gaddafi loyalists seized Ajdabiya last week as they advanced east to quell an uprising which began in mid-February.

A Libyan minister said the army had left the town after the "heavy involvement" of Western forces.

The rebel breakthrough came after a seventh night of bombardment by allies enforcing a UN resolution against Col Gaddafi.

British RAF Tornado aircraft have been firing Brimstone guided missiles at his forces in recent days around Ajdabiya, a town of about 100,000 people.

Gaddafi 'promotes everyone'

The BBC's Ben Brown in Ajdabiya says those strikes seemed to be even heavier overnight, leaving wrecked tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces at both the eastern and western gates to the town.

Some of the celebrating rebels chanted "Thank you, Obama", "Thank you, Cameron" - references to the US president and British prime minister.

The rebels said they were going through the town street by street trying to make sure there were no government fighters or snipers left.

A Libyan government official admitted its forces had abandoned the town.

"They [Western forces] were heavily involved, so the Libyan armed forces decided to leave Ajdabiya this morning," Khaled Kaim, a deputy foreign minister, told reporters.

Rebel forces then moved westwards to the oil town of Brega, 70km (44 miles) from Ajdabiya.

Rebel spokesman Col Ahmed Bani said opposition troops were on the outskirts of Brega, but one journalist travelling with the rebels told Agence France-Presse news agency they were now in the centre of the town and that government forces had fully withdrawn.

Overnight strikes by international forces also reportedly hit an air base on the outskirts of Misrata, a rebel-held city further west which pro-Gaddafi forces have been shelling.

Rebel spokesmen in the city told Reuters on Saturday that the government assault had eased as a result.

However, the spokesmen said later that Gaddafi forces were attacking again from both east and west, with tank, mortar and artillery fire.

The area around Ajdabiya is littered with destroyed military hardware

Large explosions were also heard in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Saturday morning.

Witnesses said a military radar site was set on fire in that city's suburb of Tajura, a previous target of the air raids.

In his weekly address, US President Barack Obama said that the "clear and focused" military mission in Libya was succeeding.

"Make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians - innocent men, women and children - have been saved," he said.

Col Gaddafi is meanwhile said to have ordered a universal promotion for everyone in the army and police, and proposed arming civilian volunteers.

The BBC's Kevin Connolly in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi says the administration's latest move smacks of desperation.

In Tripoli, a distressed woman reached a hotel where foreign journalists are staying, and told them she had been detained for two days by pro-Gaddafi forces and gang-raped after being stopped at a checkpoint.

She was still telling her story when hotel staff and government minders tackled her, and she was dragged out of the hotel and driven away by security guards. Reporters say her story cannot be verified but she did show signs of injury.

A Libyan government spokesman later said the woman was drunk and possibly mentally ill, but said an investigation was being carried out.