Saturday 22 July 2017

Troops relaunch bid to take Gaddafi stronghold

Dean Gray in Tripoli

Libyan interim government fighters relaunched their offensive on the besieged town of Sirte yesterday after being pushed back by die-hard Col Muammar Gaddafi loyalists holed up in the deposed leader's home town.

Hundreds of National Transitional Council (NTC) troops have surrounded the Mediterranean coastal town for weeks in a chaotic struggle to snuff out the last pocket of resistance against the revolution that ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule. Grad rockets, artillery and tank fire rained down on the town.

Asked about the government forces' slow progress in taking Sirte, one NTC fighter said: "All we can think of is catching the rat Gaddafi. We are taking it slowly, step by step. We have been patient for 42 years."

NTC fighters have deployed an arsenal of homemade weapons.

Yesterday, a bulldozer arrived at the front. On its front was mounted a tank turret and the sides were made from concrete sandwiched between steel plate.

The NTC's failure to seize Sirte, nearly two months since capturing Tripoli, has raised questions about its ability to exert its authority over the entire country and has postponed the launch of its promised democracy programme.

On Monday, NTC forces captured the other main Gaddafi stronghold, Bani Walid, where the ousted leader's loyalists had put up resistance for two months.

NTC forces were poised a few days ago to declare victory in Sirte, but on Tuesday they were forced to retreat in some places under intense fire.

But a day later, NTC fighters had taken back the lost ground and made further gains so that for the first time government forces attacking from the east and west could see each other's positions.

Gaddafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of civilians, is in hiding

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed "Libya's victory" during a visit to Tripoli on Tuesday.

Mrs Clinton was the most senior US official to come to Tripoli since Gaddafi's reign ended in August.

Irish Independent

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