Libyan rebels retake towns from Gaddafi

LIBYA’S ramshackle rebel army pushed west yesterday to retake a series of towns from the forces of Muammar Gaddafi as they pulled back under pressure from Western air strikes.

Emboldened by the capture of the strategic town of Ajdabiyah with the help of foreign warplanes on Saturday, the rebels have within two days dramatically reversed military losses in their five-week insurgency and regained control of all the main oil terminals in eastern Libya, as far as the town of Bin Jawad.

Rebels said they now had their sights on the coastal town of Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town and an important military base about 150 km further along the coastal road.

On the diplomatic front, NATO agreed yesterday to take full command of military operations in Libya.

Meanwhile, the United States has vowed to cut its military role in Libya over the next week and join other nations in ejecting Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi from power.

US defence secretary Robert Gates also raised the possibility that Gaddafi’s regime could splinter and said an international conference in London tomorrow would discuss political strategies to help bring an end to Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.