Rebels Claim They've Retaken Gadhafi's Hometown

Mar 28, 2011
Originally published on March 28, 2011 10:32 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

President Obama addresses the nation tonight on Libya. He'll be speaking about the military operation there from the National Defense University in Washington, and it appears he'll have positive news to report.

MONTAGNE: And Eric, there are conflicting reports about whether the rebels really have taken Sirte. What do you know?

ERIC WESTERVELT: Well, Renee, I'm in the oil port of Brega, just outside of it, and rebels here are telling us that actually the front line is now about 10 kilometers outside of Sirte, so the fighting is between the small town of Bin Jawad and Sirte, according to these fighters we're talking to.

B: 30 in the morning in Benghazi, the city erupted for two hours with celebratory fire and beeping and people took to the streets yelling; they were celebrating what they thought was the fall of Sirte to rebel forces. But it looks like that's still in flux, that they have not yet secured that city, which is Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's hometown, that there still is fighting for that key area.

MONTAGNE: And presumably the fighting could be very hard there in Sirte, given that it's a stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi. But what are reports about what is happening with his troops?

WESTERVELT: Rebels here say that troops that were left, survived, got into civilian cars and fled towards Sirte. Here outside Brega, I'm seeing green uniforms strung along the ground; there are artillery crates, ammunition. It appears they left in an absolute hurry. Rebels right now are loading up artillery and ammunition rounds onto a big truck that they say the Gadhafi forces just left behind in haste.

MONTAGNE: Is there any sign, though, that the rebels themselves are becoming more organized as they push toward the west?

WESTERVELT: When we were talking to rebels today about what's going on on the road up ahead, and we said how do you know that, and they said well, you know, the phones are down, we're just hearing it when rebels come back this way. So it's often secondhand; it's not clear communication, and they haven't been able to improve that at all.

MONTAGNE: And what has been the scene of the towns that you have passed through today? Now, Eric, you're going from eastern Libya toward the west, right, which is towards Tripoli.

WESTERVELT: Renee, what I've seen today is just destroyed cars and tanks and heavy equipment. These technicals, which are pickup trucks loaded with machine guns, they're destroyed on the side of the road. Some of these towns are virtually abandoned, deserted. The shops are still closed. There are very few people on the street. There's obvious signs of fighting and destruction along the main roads, bullet holes everywhere. Here where I am right now at this Brega terminal, there's destroyed vehicles all around me. We're told that the port, the oil facility, is operating, but it looks just total destruction all around you, garbage and burned cars and destroyed houses here right along the highway. And I saw a lot of that coming up today, just destroyed vehicles and abandoned small towns.

MONTAGNE: Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Eric Westervelt speaking to us outside the port city of Brega, along the coast of Libya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.