Heavy Fighting in Libya; NTC Government Delayed

Posted September 18th, 2011 at 10:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Libyan revolutionary fighters met strong resistance Sunday in two of former leader Moammar Gadhafi's remaining strongholds, as National Transitional Council leaders delayed announcing a new government.

NTC volunteer fighters fled in chaos from the heavily fortified desert town of Bani Walid when pro-Gadhafi troops attacked their positions with mortars and sniper fire.

Regular, trained provisional authority troops had pulled away from Bani Walid after failing to take the town in earlier fighting. Volunteers who chose to remain at the front line took heavy fire Sunday.

In Sirte, revolutionary forces also have encountered fierce resistance. Most NTC fighters besieging that city are in experienced, battle-hardened brigades from Misrata.

On Sunday, they deployed long-range artillery, tanks, mobile rocket launchers and mortars around Mr. Gadhafi's hometown, attempting to pound loyalist forces into submission. Pro-Gadhafi fighters responded with their own heavy fire, inflicting numerous casualties among revolutionary forces.

The NTC had planned to reveal new Cabinet positions on Sunday. But interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told reporters last-minute negotiations have delayed the announcement “indefinitely.”

The former rebels' executive committee was dissolved last month. Talks about new appointments broke down when Mr. Jibril's proposals did not receive full backing.

NTC officials also disagreed about whether it is necessary to form a transitional government before declaring Libya fully “liberated” from pro-Gadhafi forces. Provisional authority plans for a new constitution and elections could unfold once that declaration is made.

The deposed leader's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said pro-Gadhafi fighters have won several battles lately and have the ability to continue “for months.”

Ibrahim also said loyalist forces have captured what he called a number of French, British and Qatari “mercenaries.” He said the group will be shown on television at a later time, but he did not give more details. It was not possible to immediately verify Ibrahim's claims.