Libyan army strikes rebels, halts their advance on Sirte

Sunday, March 6, pro-Qaddafi forces followed up their successes of Saturday – when they regained a cluster of Gulf of Sirte (Sidra) towns east of Tripoli and captured Zawiya west of the capital – by breaking through to the bridge leading to the center of the key town of Misratah. There, opposition forces have cleared traffic to prepare for their last stand. debkafile's military sources report Qaddafi's navy is pounding the rebels from the sea and has blockaded the town to prevent them from bringing in fresh supplies of reinforcements and ammunition. Local medics reported at least 18 dead in the fighting in Misrata Sunday.

In the face of these reverses, anti-Qaddafi were doggedly trying to advance on Sirte, another key town like Misratah on the road to Tripoli, but are stranded at Bin Jawad, 150 kilometers east of Sirte, by heavy air bombardment.

Another obstacle in their path is the big complex of army camps holding the bulk of the units loyal to Qadafi at Wadi al Ahmar and forming Sirte's eastern defense rampart. On paper, the opposition forces don't stand a chance of breaking through that defense line. They are outnumbered and outgunned in addition to being under air and sea attack.
The rebels' only substantial gain for now is the defection of several colonels from the Libyan army. It is not clear whether they changed sides and joined the opposition out of personal animosity for Qaddafi or because they saw their chance of using the opposition movement to acquire fiefdoms in the country.

Still, the pro-Qaddafi army appeared buoyed up by its successes and Sunday looked more confident than ever before – especially after planting a foothold deep inside the rebel-hold eastern region at Tobruk near the Egyptian border. 
Tripoli claimed to have captured the town, which is not true, but its main objective in that part of the country is to block the path of Egyptian tribesmen seeking to cross over and support their Libyan kinsmen who are in revolt against the Qaddafi regime. Army contingents have also been deployed on the Tunisian border to the west, with the effect of reducing the refugee exodus to a trickle.

In another key deployment, Qaddafi has relocated his entire air force fleet from airfields in the eastern and western regions to two southern facilities near the Sahara, more than 1,300 kilometers away. He had two reasons: One was to put them out of range of rebel attacks on the ground; and, two, to distance them from the Mediterranean coast and outside the reach of American air carriers, in case US warplanes are sent to impose no fly zones over Libyan air space. To cover the distance to Libyan air force bases deep in the south, Western warplanes would have to refuel in flight.

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