AJDABIYA, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s
ground forces have recaptured a strategic oil town and are close to taking a second,
making new inroads in beating back a rebel advance toward the capital Tripoli.
Western powers kept up the pressure
to force Gadhafi out with new airstrikes to weaken his military, hints that
they may arm the opposition and intense negotiations behind the scenes to find
a country to give haven to Libya’s leader of more than 40 years.
Airstrikes have neutralized
Gadhafi’s air force and pounded his army, but those ground forces remain far
better armed, trained and organized than the opposition.
The rebels, with few weapons more
powerful than rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, can attack targets 3
to 4 miles away, but the loyalists’ heavy weapons have a range of 12 miles.
That disparity was obvious as
government forces pushed back rebels, who just two days earlier had been
closing in on the strategic city of Sirte,
Gadhafi’s hometown and a bastion of
support for the long-time leader.
Under heavy shelling, rebels have retreated
from Bin Jawwad and from the oil port of Ras Lanouf.