Libyan fighters poured into a desert town held by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi on Friday as explosions and gunfire echoed around the town’s hills and valleys, a Reuters reporter said. Bani Walid, 110 miles south of Tripoli, has been under siege for two weeks, with hundreds of die-hard Gadhafi loyalists concentrated at its center.
Earlier Friday, truckloads of anti-Gadhafi troops shouting “Let’s go! Bani Walid!” and columns of pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns were seen speeding toward the town, kicking up clouds of dust in the desert. “We are going in. We finally have the orders. God is greatest. God willing, Bani Walid will be free today,” fighter Mohamed Ahmed said, his rifle sticking out of his car window.
Anti-Gadhafi forces also stormed the ousted ruler’s birthplace of Sirte late on Thursday, coming under heavy fire from loyalists in the northern coastal city.
Al-Jazeera reported that Libyan forces were engaged in fierce fighting with Gadhafi’s troops Friday. The television network also said that Libyan fighters had captured the airport in Sirte, which is six miles south of the city itself. Libya’s National Transitional Council had hesitated to storm Bani Walid for fear of alienating a powerful local tribe, but earlier this week it told civilians to flee ahead of a full-out onslaught.
Fighters shook their rifles above their heads and fired defiant shots into the air, while loudspeakers urged the hundreds of men to head to the front and blared out slogans such as “We are victorious!” Earlier, rockets fired by Gadhafi forces in Bani Walid had hit the factory, which is also used as a field hospital. Doctors there said no one had been wounded or killed in the attack. An exchange of heavy machinegun fire followed and large numbers of anti-Gadhafi forces set off in pursuit of the attackers. “The city will fall under our control, there is no other way,” senior NTC official Abdallah Kanshil said.
On Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged the NATO mission would continue while Gadhafi loyalists continued to fight against.
“There are still parts of Libya under Gadhafi’s control, Gadhafi is still at large, and we must make sure this work is completed,” he said.
He called on Gadhafi to surrender, saying “it is time for him to give himself up and time for Libyan people get the justice they deserve by seeing him face justice.”