Libya’s NTC claims vital Sabha victory

Top Stories

Libya’s NTC claims vital Sabha victory

Libya’s new rulers on Wednesday declared victory in the battle for the key southern city of Sabha, one of the last strongholds of loyalists to deposed despot Muammar Gaddafi.

By (AFP)

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Wed 21 Sep 2011, 5:52 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:53 AM

Officials of the interim ruling National Transitional Council said there were only small pockets of resistance in Sabha, Libya’s largest desert city and home to a strategically vital military base.

The United States prepared, meanwhile, to raise the Stars and Stripes over its reopening embassy in Tripoli, after President Barack Obama met Libya’s new leader in New York and said the world would stand with his country as it consolidates freedom.

‘We are in complete control of the city of Sabha. Everybody, including (those who were) pro-Gaddafi, are now with the revolution,’ said Abdelmajid Seif Ennasr, who represents the NTC in Sabha.

The NTC’s fighters were only encountering ‘resistance from some individuals here and there,’ he told AFP.

‘Sabha is totally under the control of the revolutionaries,’ said Mohammed Wardugu, the Benghazi spokesman of the ‘Desert Shield Brigade’ fighting in the region.

The battle for Sabha, a city of 100,000 people in an area dominated by Gaddafi’s clan, first broke out on June 12 after two days of anti-regime protests in the sprawling oasis.

Wardugu said Tuesday the NTC forces had taken control of Sabha’s airport and a garrison, and forced 300 Gaddafi mercenaries to flee before capturing 150 of his loyalists.

Elsewhere on the battlefront, an AFP photographer said six loud blasts rocked Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte as NATO warplanes overflew the city where his diehard forces have for days been putting up stiff resistance on several fronts.

The air strikes came after Gaddafi’s men fired Grad rockets at an NTC position near a bridge on a western highway into the central Mediterranean city, before the NTC forces hit back. There were no casualties.

At Bani Walid, a Gaddafi bastion southwest of Sirte, NTC fighters were preparing for a ‘decisive battle’ backed by tanks in the next 48 hours, said Abdullah Kenshil, an NTC official who reported the death of one NTC fighter.

Anti-Gaddafi authorities have admitted at least three of their fighters were killed and 17 wounded in the Sirte assault on Tuesday, but said they had captured a string of oasis towns.

‘The offensive on Sirte has been high intensity in terms of casualties,’ Dr Suheib Abu Garza told AFP in Misrata, about 150 kilometres (95 miles) east of Sirte, where many of the casualties of battle are being brought.

Overall, medics said at least 45 NTC fighters have been killed and more than 200 wounded since they moved on Sirte from the west and south on September 15, while another NTC force is fighting from the east.

Meanwhile, 16 patients — most in critical condition — were evacuated on a Qatari military plane to Malta as doctors said the region’s hospitals were overwhelmed.

NTC forces suspect Gaddafi enjoys a broad base of support in Sirte.

‘The majority of residents are with Gaddafi,’ said Zuber Al Gadir, spokesman of the Misrata military council, adding their persistent loyalty to the ousted leader was a legacy of his now defunct propaganda machine.

In Harawa, an AFP correspondent saw about nine NTC tanks moving towards Sirte’s eastern front, possibly in a bid to boost defences in the face of steady artillery and machine-gun fire from Gaddafi loyalists.

NATO said that in the vicinity of Sirte on Tuesday it struck six air missile systems, two military ammunition or storage facilities, one command and control node, one military vehicle storage facility and one tank.

In the Al Jufra oasis towns of Waddan and Hun, the alliance said it took out one military vehicle storage facility, four anti-aircraft guns and one armed vehicle.

NTC forces said Wednesday they seized most of Waddan and were only facing pockets of resistance in other Al Jufra towns, about 300 kilometres (186 miles) south of Sirte.

‘Seventy percent of the Al Jufra has been liberated. Waddan is freed, our forces entered the town following NATO bombing of Al Hisha dam, 20 kilometres (13 miles) from the town,’ Mustafa Huni, an NTC official in Benghazi told AFP.

Despite the setbacks, the fugitive Gaddafi told his remaining loyalists in Libya that the new regime is only temporary, in his latest comments aired on Syrian-based Arrai television.

‘What is happening in Libya is a charade which can only take place thanks to the (NATO-led) air raids, which will not last forever,’ said Gaddafi, who has been at large since NTC forces overran Tripoli on August 25.

‘Do not rejoice and don’t believe that one regime has been overthrown and another imposed with the help of air and maritime strikes,’ he added.

The recording was the first by Gaddafi since September 8, when he denied reports he had fled to Algeria or Niger.

As Libya’s new rulers were feted in New York, however, interim prime minister Mahmud Jibril said the country’s first formal government since Gaddafi’s ouster would be announced within seven to 10 days.

‘Most of the work has been done. It is a question of the number of ministries and the location of the ministries,’ said Jibril, noting that ‘for a country which was absent from any democratic process for 42 years... what’s taking place is natural’.

His statement came after a special summit at which President Obama met with NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil and announced the US embassy would be reopening and the ambassador, Gene Cretz, returning for Thursday’s flag-raising ceremony.

And in another sign that Gaddafi’s days on the run are numbered, the African Union, which had long held out against recognising the NTC as Libya’s new rulers, on Tuesday finally announced it was doing so.

More news from