Last updated: 18 July, 2011

Libyan rebels claim control of Brega

Libya’s rebels claimed control of Brega on Monday, as most pro-Kadhafi troops retreated westward leaving around 150-200 loyalist fighters pinned down inside the oil town, a spokesman said.

“The bulk of (Moamer) Kadhafi’s forces have retreated to Ras Lanuf,” rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told AFP, referring to another oil hub about 50 kilometres (32 miles) to the west.

Abdulmolah added that the remnants of Kadhafi’s troops were holed up among industrial facilities in Brega with supplies dwindling.

“Their food and water supplies are cut and they now will not be able to sleep,” said Abdulmolah as the latest battle for Brega entered its fifth day.

“It’s a matter of time before they come to their senses, we hope to prevent some bloodshed.”

Taking the town would be a major victory for the rebels, boosting moral and recapturing infrastructure that is vital to Libya’s economic future.

Brega is a major centre for channelling the pipelines of the oil-rich Sirte Basin to the rest of the world.

Fighters on the ground reported no signs so far that those oil installations have been set on fire or sabotaged, but Abdulmolah said the area has been heavily mined.

Rebel forces on Thursday launched a three-pronged attack to take control of Brega, which has switched hands multiple times, but which had been under Kadhafi control since April.

Rebel troops approached from the northeast, east and southeast, surrounding Kadhafi’s forces and reaching the outskirts of the city’s eastern-most tip on Friday before pulling back to allow for NATO bombardments.

Since then it has been a steady advance.

After a series of military gains were washed away by hasty and badly coordinated advances, rebel commanders were anxious to make sure they have a unified offensive line before their final push.

But the complete occupation of Brega may still have to wait.

“Most of the troops going in right now are anti-mine teams,” said Abdulmolah. “We have found an extraordinary number of anti-personnel mines.”

He added that the effort to clear the ordnance is being hampered by missile attacks from the village of Bishr around 20 kilometres away.

The rebels hope a phalanx of rebel forces which swept past Brega from the south will soon take out those positions.

“We hope to take Bishr today” said Abdulmolah.