On Wednesday, the rebels claimed a new victory in a march toward the capital that, in recent weeks, has won them tanks, rocket launchers and an large ammunition dump seized from Gaddafi’s military. The rapid gains in the west come in sharp contrast to battlefields in the east, where the front lines have remained largely stagnant for months.
The pace and outcome of the battles have given rebels hope that the tide could be shifting in a campaign that has clearly put Gaddafi’s forces on the defensive. The hours-long battle that began before dawn on Wednesday included thundering barrages of artillery and rockets fired from both sides, and ended as truckloads of rebels returned from the battlefields with a new hoard of captured weapons.
“You can see we are going forward,” said Abu Hakim, a rebel fighter. “If we go on like this, we will get to Tripoli very soon.’’
At least seven rebels were killed in the battle and scores were wounded, rebel leaders said. It was unclear whether government troops were killed in the battle.
Until now, rebels in the flat terrain east of the capital have received more support from NATO fighter planes and trainers than those in the west. Rebel leaders in the west attribute their successes to a well-thought-out battle plan and to familiarity with the hilly desert terrain, but they say they have also been helped by NATO’s recent strikes targeting Gaddafi’s fighting positions in and around the mountains.
After Wednesday’s battle, rebel leaders said they forced Gaddafi troops out of the town of al-Qualish, putting rebels within striking distance of Gharyan, a city 60 miles south of Tripoli along the government-controlled supply route that leads south. Rebels leaders contend that the regime is using the route to resupply its arsenals.
Battle gains on the northern edge of the mountains, meanwhile, have extended the rebel-controlled area closer to Zawiyah, a city 40 miles west of the capital along the coastal road that connects Tripoli with Tunisia.
“All the towns have started working together,” said Col. Abdullah Mahdi, a 48-year-old officer who defected from the Libyan Air Force days after the uprising began in February and is now a rebel commander. “After each battle, we’ve gained weapons from Gaddafi’s forces.”
The western mountain revolt
The revolt in the western mountains began in mid-February after protests in the eastern city of Benghazi triggered a popular uprising across Libya. As the unrest began to turn violent, Gaddafi sent a confidant to the western town of Ziltan to ask tribal leaders to provide 1,000 fighters to shore up the regime’s forces in the east, residents said.
But the request angered many Ziltan residents, coming on the the heels of uprisings that ousted autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt, which both share borders with Libya. After an assembly was convened to discuss the government’s request for fighters, a small government protest broke out outside, said Musa Edweb, 50, who attended the meeting. Washington Post