- Title: LIBYA: Interim military's hunt for Muammar Gaddafi turns to desert town
- Date: 2nd September 2011
- Summary: ROAD FROM MISRATA TO BANI WALID, LIBYA (SEPTEMBER 1, 2011) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF REBELS ON THE ROAD BETWEEN MISRATA AND BANI WALID REBELS LOOKING INSIDE ABANDONED GADDAFI-ERA AIR DEFENCE INSTALLATION (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) UNIDENTIFIED REBEL, SAYING: "Yes definitely... That's what we're doing. I can't answer that question." MORE OF REBELS ON THE ROAD BETWEEN MISRATA AND BANI WALID REBELS IN DESERTED BUILDING VARIOUS OF REBELS EXAMINING MAP OF REGION REBELS BURNING GADDAFI-ERA FLAG VARIOUS OF REBELS ON THE ROAD / DESTROYED AIR DEFENCE INSTALLATION VARIOUS REBELS STANDING ON TOP OF A MISSILE MORE OF REBELS
- Embargoed: 17th September 2011 13:00
- Location: Libya
- Country: Libya
- Topics: Conflict
- Reuters ID: LVA7R6I57YFFIIU77HCUCR220NCW
- Story Text: Their guns trained on the barren desert and eyes fixed on the hazy horizon, rebels patrolling the edge of Muammar Gaddafi's last stronghold in Libya said on Thursday (September 1) they are ready for their final fight.
Rebels steered their pickup trucks deeper into the desert towards Bani Walid, a town where the fugitive leader is believed to be hiding.
An important tribal stronghold southeast of the capital Tripoli, Bani Walid is one of Gaddafi's last remaining bastions of power in a country now largely under rebel control.
Along with the coastal city of Sirte further east and Sabha in the south, Bani Walid lies inside a vast triangle of desert land where support for Gaddafi has been traditionally strong.
For now, with Libya's new rulers hoping to negotiate their peaceful surrender, rebel forces massing at Bani Walid's gates are locked in an uneasy standoff with a town still under the spell of Gaddafi's rule.
At the last dusty outpost east of Bani Walid, rebels said they engaged in almost daily skirmishes with Gaddafi loyalists scouting the area but had yet to receive orders from their commanders to advance.
Rebel fighters take turns to man watch towers, training their binoculars into the desert for any sign of approaching vehicles.
Kicking up columns on dust, rebel convoys make daily incursions into the area but avoid open hostilities unless provoked, they said.
Yet, no one is firmly in control of the vast swathe of land stretching between Bani Walid, home to Libya's biggest and most important tribe of Warfalla, and Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast.
Rebels said they had 168 units - or about 16,000 fighters - deployed in the area around their regional stronghold of Misrata, but conceded that any fight for Bani Walid or Sirte would be tough.
Inside Bani Walid, its supply lines severed by rebel checkpoints from the north, east and west, food and water have become increasingly scarce and its population desperate. Yet there were no signs of its imminent surrender.
Rebels said Gaddafi loyalists broadcasted daily radio appeals calling on civilians there to take up weapons and fight.
On Thursday, a convoy of fighters ventured out into the desert on a reconnaissance mission, inspecting an abandoned Gaddafi-era air defence installation destroyed by NATO earlier in the war.
Khalil Shelbi, a rebel unit commander, said the area was infested with Gaddafi militiamen, and his fighters watched out nervously as they patrolled the ruins of the once-top secret, Russian-built facility.
The Burkan base -- one of Libya's four such facilities equipped with Soviet surface to air missiles - appeared frozen in time, its rusty missile launchers still intact on a rocky hillside.
An antiquated missile was left abandoned in the scorching sun.
The facility was bombed by NATO earlier in the war and abandoned completely by Gaddafi's retreating loyalists about two weeks ago as rebels pushed further west.
Inside one of its crumbling operation centres, its walls crushed by the force of the NATO air strike, Russian-language instruction manuals were scattered on the floor.
Blackened copies of Ukrainian and Russian passports were still stacked up neatly on a shelve - a legacy of Gaddafi's once cosy military ties with former Soviet states.
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