Libyan NTC forces fight for Gaddafi's home town

Sep 24, 2011, 10:25 a.m.
Vehicles travel on a road as smoke rises from a fire at a naval base in Tripoli September 24, 2011. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

In the fighting for Sirte, Reuters journalists said NTC fighters had captured its strategically vital eastern gate, 50 km from the town. NTC forces had come under heavy rocket fire from just behind the gate for more than a week.

"The gate is very symbolic for us because it's very close to Sirte and it has raised our moral," NTC fighter Ahmed Khairy told Reuters, as his comrades draped the new Libyan flag over its arches and shouted: "God is greatest."

Identity cards that NTC fighters said were left behind by pro-Gaddafi fighters littered the ground at the gate. Most were owned by Libyan nationals but several belonged to Nigerians.

NTC officials have said Gaddafi used mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa to bolster his ranks during the war.

Tanks were seen moving beyond the gate toward Sirte.

"We are coming for you, wild-haired one," fighters chanted, referring to Gaddafi.

On Thursday, the NTC said it had taken full control of Sabha, which was the traditional base for Gaddafi's own tribe. About 800 km (500 miles) south of Tripoli, it had been occupied by fighters loyal to him.

The NTC says it also controls Jufra, to the northeast of Sabha, and the nearby oasis towns of Sokna, Waddan and Houn.

The manhunt for Gaddafi, who has been in hiding for weeks occasionally issuing audio messages through Syrian-based Arrai TV, is drawing closer to its target, NTC officials say.

The interim government forces suffer from lack of organization. They operate in disparate units based on their home towns, with little overall command.

(Reporting by Goran Tomasevic south of Sirte, Sherine El Madany east of Sirte, William Maclean and Joseph Logan in Tripoli, Emad Omar in Benghazi, John O'Donnell in Brussels, Barry Malone in Tunis and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Editing by Ralph Gowling)

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