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Gadhafi's forces, Libyan rebels face standoff

 Libyan rebels react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...
 A Libyan rebel reacts after visiting the grave of his brother Mohammed, who died in fighting on Sunday, on the frontline of the outskirts of the city...
 Libyan rebels react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...
 Libyan rebel react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internati...
 Libyan rebel react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internati...
 Ali Zeidan, a Europe-based envoy for the Libyan National Transitional Council, speaks to the Associated Press in Paris, Monday March, 21, 2011. Zeida...
 Ali Zeidan, left, a Europe-based envoy for the Libyan National Transitional Council, and Mansour Sayfal-Naser, a member of the Libyan Human Rights Le...
 EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, talks with Belgium's Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere, right, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, ...
 Libyan rebels react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...
 A pilot climbs out of a British Typhoon jet fighter  of the Royal Air Force's Number 3 Squadron, parked at Gioia del Colle air base near Bari, Southe...
 Libyan rebels observe the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internati...
 Libyan rebels arrive at the frontline on the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The interna...
 A Danish F-16 takes off from the Nato airbase in Sigonella, Italy, Monday, March 21, 2011. The European Union's top foreign policy official brushed a...
 A Libyan rebel patrols the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...

Mideast Libya

Libyan rebels react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...

Mideast Libya

A Libyan rebel reacts after visiting the grave of his brother Mohammed, who died in fighting on Sunday, on the frontline of the outskirts of the city...

Mideast Libya

Libyan rebels react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...

Mideast Libya

Libyan rebel react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internati...

Mideast Libya

Libyan rebel react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internati...

France Libya

Ali Zeidan, a Europe-based envoy for the Libyan National Transitional Council, speaks to the Associated Press in Paris, Monday March, 21, 2011. Zeida...

France Libya

Ali Zeidan, left, a Europe-based envoy for the Libyan National Transitional Council, and Mansour Sayfal-Naser, a member of the Libyan Human Rights Le...

APTOPIX Belgium EU Libya Diplomacy

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, talks with Belgium's Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere, right, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, ...

Mideast Libya

Libyan rebels react on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...

Italy Britain Libya

A pilot climbs out of a British Typhoon jet fighter of the Royal Air Force's Number 3 Squadron, parked at Gioia del Colle air base near Bari, Southe...

Mideast Libya

Libyan rebels observe the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internati...

Mideast Libya

Libyan rebels arrive at the frontline on the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The interna...

Italy EU Libya

A Danish F-16 takes off from the Nato airbase in Sigonella, Italy, Monday, March 21, 2011. The European Union's top foreign policy official brushed a...

Mideast Libya

A Libyan rebel patrols the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Monday, March 21, 2011. The internat...

Moammar Gadhafi's forces lobbed artillery shells at rebels regrouping outside a strategic eastern city, forcing a band of fighters to scatter and signaling a prolonged battle as the U.S. said it was shifting its focus to widening a no-fly zone across the North African country.
The first round of the allied assault over the weekend smashed a column of regime tanks that had been moving on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east, reversing the government's advance and allowing the rebels to barrel to west, vowing to break a siege on Ajdabiya, a city of 140,000 that is the gateway to the east.
The ragtag band of hundreds of fighters who made their way to the outskirts of Ajdabiya on Tuesday milled about, clutching mortars, grenades and assault rifles. Some wore khaki fatigues. One man sported a bright white studded belt.
Some men clambered up power lines in the rolling sand dunes of the desert, squinting toward the city and hoping to see Gadhafi's forces.
"Gadhafi is killing civilians inside Ajdabiya," said Khaled Hamid, a rebel who said he been in Gadhafi's forces but defected to the rebels' side. "Today we will enter Ajdabiya, God willing."
The group was forced to flee in jeeps and trucks when they came under fire from regime forces but later returned and clustered in the same area _ a pattern that has become common as the rebels fight to seize the momentum as the regime's forces and air defenses are pounded by international strikes.
An Associated Press reporter heard planes flying heard overhead followed by four thuds, but it was cloudy and it wasn't possible to confirm what caused them.
Disorganization among the rebels could hamper their attempts to exploit the turn of events. Since the uprising began on Feb. 15, the opposition has been made up of disparate groups even as it took control of the entire east of the country.
Regular citizens _ residents of the "liberated" areas _ took up arms and formed a highly enthusiastic but undisciplined force that in the past weeks has charged ahead to fight Gadhafi forces, only to be beaten back by superior firepower. Regular army units that joined the rebellion have proven stronger, more organized fighters, but only a few units have joined the battles while many have stayed behind as officers struggle to get together often antiquated, limited equipment and form a coordinated force.
A rebel commander who defected from the Libyan special forces said a lot of professional ex-soldiers also had poured into Ajdabiya and the nearby oil port city of Brega starting Monday, encircling the Gadhafi forces to disrupt their supply lines as the airstrikes had leveled the playing field.
"If not for the West we would not have been able to push forward," said Ahmed Buseifi, a 32-year-old dressed in fatigues and boots. "I'm pinpointing where their forces are and their tanks and passing it up the chain of command."
He complained the large number of so-called citizen soldiers were only getting in the way.
"It's making it difficult to do our job. It's important to take care of their lives," he said.
The air campaign by U.S. and European militaries that began Saturday has unquestionably rearranged the map in Libya and rescued rebels from the immediate threat they faced only days ago of being crushed under a powerful advance by Gadhafi's forces.
Monday night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes had begun in the capital, Tripoli, marking the third night of bombardment. But while the airstrikes can stop Gadhafi's troops from attacking rebel cities _ in line with the U.N. mandate to protect civilians _ the United States, at least, appeared deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others said the U.S. military's role will lessen in coming days as other countries take on more missions and the need declines for large-scale offensive action like the barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired Saturday and Sunday mainly by U.S. ships and submarines off Libya's coast.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified data, said Monday that the attacks thus far had reduced Libya's air defense capabilities by more than 50 percent. That has enabled the coalition to focus more on extending the no-fly zone, which is now mainly over the coastal waters off Libya and around the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east, across the country to the Tripoli area this week.
In his first public comments on the crisis, Army Gen. Carter Ham, the lead U.S. commander, said it was possible that Gadhafi might manage to retain power.
"I don't think anyone would say that is ideal," the general said Monday, foreseeing a possible outcome that stands in contrast to President Barack Obama's declaration that Gadhafi must go.
The Libyan leader has ruled the North African nation for more than four decades and was a target of American air attacks in 1986.
___
Associated Press Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-01-26 13:36 GMT+08:00