Gaddafi's troops halt rebel advance
Rebel fighters who drove west under protection of coalition air strikes driven out of Bin Jawad after approaching Sirte.
Last Modified: 29 Mar 2011 11:44
Troops loyal to longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have shelled pro-democracy forces heading west on the main coastal highway, pushing them out of Bin Jawad, a small town around 150 kilometres east of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown.
The reversal on Tuesday for Libya's nascent opposition came after their forces made a speedy, two-day advance from Ajdabiya.
Ajdabiya is a crossroads town that Gaddafi's troops had held for two weeks before an international military intervention allowed pro-democracy fighters to take it back.
On Monday, the pro-democracy forces moved as far west as Nawfaliya, another small town around 20 kilometres past Bin Jawad, before making a hasty evening retreat in the face of artillery fire from Gaddafi's troops.
A spokesman in the eastern opposition stronghold of Benghazi had announced earlier that day that Sirte itself had fallen, a rumour that turned out to be untrue.
The rebel retreat from Bin Jawad came as representatives from more than 40 countries gathered in London for a conference aimed at plotting a post-Gaddafi political future for Libya.
Gaddafi's troops approach Bin Jawad
But as diplomats met to discuss a Libya without Gaddafi, the man who has ruled the country for more than 41 years still seemed capable of holding onto power.
Most of the rebel forces in Bin Jawad were forced to flee on Tuesday under a barrage from Gaddafi's forces that included mortars and possibly rockets, Al Jazeera's James Bays reported from the town.
Alan Fisher reports on the recent fighting in Libya
Coalition air strikes that had proved so crucial in saving Benghazi from what many anticipated would be a massacre were nowhere to be seen, and the rebels' tactics do not appear to have improved since the first days of the fighting.
The main body of opposition fighters is still composed mostly of young and untrained men who are not used to carrying weapons or fighting in a war and do not take simple precautions to protect themselves, like digging defenses in the ground, our correspondent said.
"The plan seems to be for most of these youngsters to drive along the road and see how far they could get," he said. "Another weakness of this mainly volunteer army ... [is that] they really haven't protected their flanks. Basic military rules if you were dealing with a regular army are not being followed."
Obama justifies intervention
Hours before the rebel retreat from Bin Jawad, US president Barack Obama defended America's involvement in the military campaign in Libya in a televised address to the nation.
Speaking to military officers and reporters at the National Defence University in Washington DC on Monday night, Obama said he refused to wait for images of the slaughter of civilians before taking action.
In blunt terms, Obama said the Western-led air campaign had stopped Gaddafi's advances and halted a slaughter that could have shaken the stability of an entire region and "stained the conscience of the entire world".
* Read the full text of Obama's speech here
* Read the Libyan opposition's political platform here
"Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries," he said. "The United States of America is different."
But he said that broadening the international mission to include regime change would be a mistake.
"If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter," he said.
The United States took the initial lead in the Western-led military action against Gaddafi before the recent NATO decision to take over the operations. Obama said the United States will transfer control to NATO on Wednesday.
Obama said once that transfer occurs, the risk and cost to American taxpayers will be reduced significantly.
But Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said Obama's speech had two striking contradictions.
"The president said we must stand alongside those who work for freedom and at the same time he said we cannot be the policemen of the world only when it applies to our national interest," Culhane said.
"The president [seem to] be trying to explain why we have seen a lesser response to allies like Bahrain or Yemen."
Obama did not discuss plans for disengagement.