Libyan Rebels Advance In The West While the front lines in the eastern part of the country have been static for months now, rebels in the west are making headway. The rebel offensive in Libya's western mountains has emerged as a threat to Gadhafi's hold on the capital, Tripoli, and other strategic cities.
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Libyan Rebels Advance In The West

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Libyan Rebels Advance In The West

Libyan Rebels Advance In The West

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Rebels in the mountains of western Libya captured another town today. That brings them one step closer to Tripoli. While the front lines in the eastern part of Libya have been static for months, rebels in the West are making headway.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro watched today's battle from the rebel side, and she filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: With cries of God is great, rebels from the Nafusah mountains drove into the town of Gualish today, celebrating their latest victory.

The battle began at dawn with both sides firing heavy artillery at one another, the rebels using tanks taken in previous battles and Gadhafi's forces responding with Grad missiles. But by afternoon, Gadhafi's troops had fled, leaving ammunition and, in some cases, vehicles behind.

Abu Hakim is a fighter here.

Mr. ABU HAKIM: If we're going like this, I think we're going to Tripoli very soon, very soon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: While much of the focus has been on the battles in the east and in the besieged western city of Misrata, the rebel offensive in the western mountains has emerged as a threat to Gadhafi's hold on the capital Tripoli and other strategic cities like Zawiya, the site of a major oil refinery.

Moussa el-Dwayb is one of the rebel military strategists in the city of Zintan. He says Gadhafi is concentrating his resources here now.

Mr. MOUSSA EL-DWAYB: Gadhafi realized that the Zintan more dangerous for him. And it is the key point of the Libya.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The rebels in this mountain range are fighting Gadhafi loyalists on three frontlines, one near the town of Nalut. That's vital because it's the gateway to the Tunisian border where all the supplies to the western rebels come in.

The second is in the town halfway down the road to the coastal refinery city of Zawiya. And the third is where the fighting was today.

The ultimate objective in this part of the battlefield is the city of Gharyan. Rebels say if they can capture it, they can then cut off the vital supply line from the south of Libya to the capital.

With today's victory, they are now about 25 miles away from Gharyan.

Unidentified Man #1: We are here. No, no, we are here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Members of the military committee pour over maps in Zintan. Today's attack on Gualish had been planned for several days. The rebel troops came at their target on three sides, with support from NATO warplanes.

While the rebel forces seem well-organized, they are, though, still plagued with problems. The main one - how they coordinate with NATO, which is carrying out a bombing campaign in Libya. All contact with NATO goes through the rebel leadership in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Colonel ABDULLAH MAHDI: This is a problem. I don't know. I'd like to discuss this problem with the NATO people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Colonel Abdullah Mahdi is the head of the Zintan military committee. He says it took days to get the go-ahead from NATO for today's offensive. NATO said it bombed a few loyalist positions around Gualish today, but rebel commanders say they need more.

(Soundbite of siren)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At least seven rebels were killed in the fighting today and many more injured. At the hospital in Zintan, the wounded were brought in on stretchers, many with shrapnel wounds.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This 22-year-old fighter says he was shot by a sniper. And then when he tried to get away, he ran into a minefield laid by Gadhafi's forces. At least six fighters were injured as two mines exploded.

Dr. Taha Mahmoud is one of the frontline doctors.

Dr. TAHA MAHMOUD: I was working for an oil company dealing with minor traumas, and - but now I am working as a war surgeon here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's seen people killed and maimed by missiles and mines, but he wants the rebels to push into Tripoli no matter how unrealistic that seems.

Dr. MAHMOUD: From the top of the mountain we can see Tripoli and the rest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now that that the tide has turned, he says, the people of Zintan want to pay Gadhafi back.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Zintan, Libya.

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