Libyan fighters said to advance into Bani Walid
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Fighters loyal to Libya's new government on Monday advanced into the desert city of Bani Walid, one of the last bastions of support for ousted leader Moammar Kadafi, officials in the capital told news agencies.
Transitional government officials gave conflicting statements about how far their forces had gone into Bani Walid, about 95 miles southeast of Tripoli, the capital. The former rebels have previously said that their forces had advanced deep into Bani Walid, only to be later pushed out of the city.
The former rebels, who toppled Kadafi in August, have besieged Bani Walid for a month but have met stiff resistance and suffered heavy casualties. Many Kadafi loyalists are said to have regrouped in Bani Walid and the coastal city of Surt, which also remains under siege.
Both Surt and Bani Walid have been heavily bombed by the Western-led NATO alliance. Still, outgunned Kadafi loyalists have refused to capitulate. Most civilians are believed to have fled the two cities.
The steadfast resistance has proved somewhat of an embarrassment for Libya's ruling Transitional National Council, which vowed quick victories in both cities when offensives were launched last month. A short-lived uprising by pro-Kadafi militants in Tripoli last week added to the uncertainty surrounding Libya's new administration. Commanders say the Tripoli revolt was quickly put down and posed no danger to the capital.
Officials are hoping to declare Libya officially "liberated" at some point in the coming days and proceed with a timetable for elections and the writing of a constitution. The interim government would also like to incorporate various rebel militias into new national police and military units.
But Libya's new rulers would first like to see their tricolor banner hoisted in both Surt and Bani Walid, replacing the green flag of the Kadafi years.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Libyan Transitional National Council fighters capture a Kadafi loyalist, center, in the city of Bani Walid on Oct. 17, 2011. Credit: Marco Longari / AFP/Getty Images