Libyan rebels flee assault


Associated Press

RAS LANOUF, Libya

Moammar Gadhafi’s forces hammered rebels with tanks and rockets, turning their rapid advance into a panicked retreat in an hours-long battle Tuesday. The fighting underscored the dilemma facing the U.S. and its allies in Libya: Rebels may be unable to oust Gadhafi militarily unless already contentious international airstrikes go even further in taking out his forces.

Opposition fighters pleaded for strikes as they fled the hamlet of Bin Jawwad, where artillery shells crashed thunderously, raising plumes of smoke. No such strikes were launched during the fighting.

The rout of the rebels Tuesday illustrated how much they rely on international air power. Only a day earlier, they had been storming westward in hopes of taking Sirte, Gadhafi’s hometown and a bastion of his support in central Libya. They reached within 60 miles of the city before they were hit by the onslaught from Gadhafi’s forces, driving them back east to Bin Jawwad.

Many of the ragtag, untrained volunteers who make up the bulk of the rebel forces fled in a panicked scramble. However, some of them backed by special- forces soldiers from military units that joined the rebellion took a stand in Bin Jawwad, returning fire.

But by the afternoon, rebels fled further east, their cars and trucks filling both lanes of the desert highway as they retreated to and even beyond the oil port of Ras Lanouf, roughly 25 miles away.

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