Pro-Gaddafi Forces Continue To Rout Libyan Rebels
The setbacks for the Libyan rebel fighters seem to be getting worse:
BREGA, Libya — Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi advanced rapidly on Wednesday, seizing towns they ceded just days ago after intense allied airstrikes and hounding rebel fighters into a chaotic retreat.
Having abandoned Bin Jawwad on Tuesday and the oil town of Ras Lanuf on Wednesday, the rebels continued their eastward retreat, fleeing before the loyalists’ shelling and missile attacks from another oil town, Brega, and falling back toward the strategically located city of Ajdabiya. On Wednesday afternoon, residents of Ajdabiya were seen fleeing along the road north to Benghazi, the rebel capital and stronghold that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces reached before the allied air campaign got underway nearly two weeks ago.
There were few signs of the punishing airstrikes that reversed the loyalists’ first push eastward into rebel-held territory. But military experts said they expected the counterattack to expose Colonel Qaddafi’s forces to renewed attacks, and an American military spokesman said that coalition warplanes resumed bombing the pro-Qaddafi units on Wednesday, without specifying either the timing or locations.
“The operation is continuing and will continue throughout the transition” to NATO command, said Capt. Clint Gebke. There were 102 airstrikes over a 24-hour period ending at 12 a.m. Eastern time, according to the United States Africa Command.
But the airstrikes, such as they were, did little to reverse the momentum of the battle. On the approaches to Brega, hundreds of cars and small trucks heading east clogged the highway as rebel forces pulled back toward Ajdabiya, recaptured from loyalist troops only days ago. Some rebels said Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, pushing eastward from Ras Lanuf, were within 10 miles of Brega.
The retreating force seemed rudderless, a sea of vehicles and fighters armed with rudimentary weapons that have proved no match for Colonel Qaddafi’s better trained and better armed forces, which have intimidated the rebels with long-range shelling.
As rebels clustered at a gas station and small mosque between Brega and Ajdabiya, a single artillery shell or rocket exploded several hundred yards away, causing the rebels, who were chanting “God is great” and waving assault rifles, to jump into their vehicles and speed eastward.
A rebel military spokesman, speaking of the losses of the last two days, conceded that at Bin Jawwad and Ras Lanuf, rebel fighters had “dissolved like snow in the sand,” though he framed the retreat as a “tactical withdrawal.”
Yes, I think Napoleon used the same phrase when he was chased away from Moscow.