Rebels Brace For Attacks By Pro-Gadhafi Forces

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi seems to have suppressed open opposition to his rule in the capital Tripoli and some surrounding towns. The rebels, meanwhile, appear to have solidified their hold on a number of areas, particularly in eastern Libya. But the rebels say they are prepared for attacks by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. A standoff appears to be shaping up in Libya. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi seems to have suppressed open opposition to his rule in the capital, Tripoli, and a few surrounding towns, at least for now. The rebels appear to have solidified their hold on a number of cities and towns, particularly in eastern Libya.

Here in the U.S., President Obama has issued his strongest call yet for Gadhafi to step down, saying Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy as a leader.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Benghazi, where the rebels are in control of that, the country's second largest city.

Good morning, Peter.

PETER KENYON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us what is happening in Benghazi today.

KENYON: This morning, Renee, we've been speaking with rebels in Brega. This is a port town with a large cache of munitions. It's also an oil facility town. It's strategically very important. And they're saying they spent all of yesterday expecting another attack from the pro-Gadhafi forces. It did not come and they're now making similar preparations today.

One army officer there who is on the side of the rebels said explanations are confused as to why there was no attack yesterday. There was one rumor, which might be wishful thinking, that some of the pro-Gadhafi officers were reluctant to attack their fellow Libyans. But the rebels now believe the pro-Gadhafi forces are massing in Sirt, which is down the coast in the direction of Tripoli. It's Gadhafi's hometown, and they could attack at any time.

Again, information is hard to come by. This officer was speculating that it might be a ground assault instead of an air attack, but it's impossible to predict. Gadhafi has shown no reluctance to use air strikes in the past, although the pilots have apparently been trying not to damage Libya's oil infrastructure, which is very valuable to the country and a lot of it right now is currently in rebel hands.

MONTAGNE: We are seeing pictures and hearing about men in Benghazi donning uniforms, preparing for a ground fight. What all is being done there to face the possibility of a counterattack by Gadhafi?

KENYON: Well, I would call it a desperate emergency effort to try and train very untrained individuals for military action. It could come at any moment. There are plenty of sounds of gunfire and explosions, from Brega to Ajdabiya and to here in Benghazi, and it's usually the sound of civilians getting that training, learning how to hold off an attack, how to use guns, how to use other weapons. There are anti-aircraft positions being manned here in Benghazi, and especially in the evening. You hear a lot of explosions, a lot of sound of ordnance going off. It's not clear, however, how much of this training is taking and it's really unclear how these anti-government forces would hold up under a sustained attack if one comes.

MONTAGNE: And rebels have been talking about pushing towards other cities, though, controlled by Gadhafi. Are you seeing any evidence of that?

KENYON: Well, not yet. I mean you'd have to say there's no sign of waning resolve. The levels of bravery are as high as ever, but there really is no sign that we've heard yet of a clear plan to advance the rebel position. It's extremely difficult for them to push on towards Sirt from Brega, and certainly to get to Tripoli would be a big ask at this point. It looks like a standoff at the moment and we're all waiting to see which way the tide turns.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, what kind of word is reaching Benghazi about what is happening in Tripoli, the capital?

KENYON: Well, this, of course, is one of the big problems, the flow of information or the lack thereof. I mean not only is it hard to get information, it's virtually impossible to predict what Gadhafi will do next. One minute he says he's leading the effort, the next minute he's just a citizen. I would call it a hallmark of this conflict, just the lack of clear information.

MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon talking to us from Benghazi in eastern Libya.

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