Humiliated army regroup for fresh attack on rebels
Published 04/03/2011 | 05:00
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi launched fresh air strikes on rebel-held eastern Libya yesterday as he marshalled his ground troops, humiliated on the battlefield the previous day, for a second offensive on the strategic oil town of Brega.
His air force, depleted by a spate of defections, attempted to bomb Brega's oilfield in what appeared to be a prelude to an all-out attack. If Brega were captured, the move would allow Col Gaddafi to starve eastern cities of electricity and petrol.
The rebel leadership in Libya's second city of Benghazi, 160 miles north-east of Brega, meanwhile, braced itself for a military onslaught by an enemy with vastly superior firepower.
A day earlier, these supposedly elite forces had suffered a chastening defeat in Brega's desert dunes at the hands of an ill-disciplined band of rebel irregulars.
Yesterday provided the respite needed to bury the dead.
Not all the dead were fighters. A list pinned to the wall in Brega's hospital bore the names of 12 fatalities, among them 14-year-old Hassan Amran Hassan. He had been grazing sheep with members of his family when pro-Gaddafi forces opened fire, killing him almost immediately. "They shot at anything that moved," his father, Amran Hassan Ali, said.
"We took cover, we couldn't move -- we were too scared. We took shelter for over an hour."
In a hospital bed in Ajdabiya, Hassan's twin brother Hussein, a bandage wrapped round his head, stared vacantly ahead, clearly still in shock. His seven-year-old younger brother, Faraj, lay next to him, a bullet in his nose.
Wounded and shaken, the rest of Col Gaddafi's men may have been forced to retreat, but there was little to suggest that they were beaten.
There were reports of reinforcements and helicopter gunships arriving in preparation for what the rebels expect to be a two-pronged attack on Brega.
So far in this campaign, not a single bomb has hit its target. (© Daily Telegraph, London)