TRIPOLI – Muammar Gaddafi’s better armed
and organised troops reversed the westward charge of Libyan rebels as world
powers met in London on to plot the country’s future without the “brother
British Prime Minister David Cameron,
accused government troops of “murderous attacks,” while U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said military strikes would continue until
Gaddafi loyalists’ ceased violence.
The United States has scaled back
to a “supporting role” to let NATO take full command from U.S.
forces, but air strikes by U.S., French and British planes remain key to
smashing Gaddafi’s armour and facilitating rebel advances.
It took five days of allied air
strikes to pulverize Libyan government tanks around the town of Ajdabiyah
before Gaddafi’s troops fled and the rebels rushed in and began their 200 mile,
two-day dash across the desert to within 50 miles of the Gaddafi loyalist
stronghold of Sirte.
But the rebel pick-up truck
cavalcade was first ambushed, and then outflanked by Gaddafi’s troops.
The advance stopped and government
forces retook the small town of Nawfaliyah, 75 miles east of Sirte.
Without air strikes it appears the
rebels are not able to make advances or even hold ground. The battle around
Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, will reveal if the rebel advance has reached its
Reports that some Nawfaliyah
residents had fought alongside government troops are an ominous sign for world
powers hoping for a swift end to Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
Gaddafi accused Western powers of
massacres of Libyan civilians in alliance with rebels he said were al Qaeda
“Stop your brutal and unjust
attack on our country … Hundreds of Libyans are being killed because of this
bombardment. Massacres are being mercilessly committed against the Libyan
people,” he said in a letter to world leaders.
The rebels deny any al Qaeda links
and promised free and fair elections if Gaddafi is forced from power.
Both Britain and Italy suggested
Gaddafi might be allowed to go into exile to bring a quick end to the six-week
civil war, but the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said there
was no evidence the Libyan leader was prepared to leave.