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Gadhafi forces expand hold in western Libya

March 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Pro-Moammar Gadhafi forces attacked a town west of Tripoli on Monday, expanding a campaign to clear rebels from western Libya around the capital.

However, there were reported problems in the regime's plans in the west. Government shelling of the opposition-held city of Misrata that lasted until Monday morning stopped during the day. Rebels reported that fighting had erupted within the ranks of pro-Gadhafi troops, apparently after some in their ranks had refused to attack.

An official who had information from rebel fighters close to the pro-Gadhafi positions said some of the government troops had "run off into the brush. No one has heard from them. We don't know if they are alive or have been killed." However, Misrata residents said they were not sure if there had been a munity on the Gadhafi side.

Libya's upheaval has turned into a two-front conflict along the country's Mediterranean coast, where the majority of the population lives. Gadhafi appears to have somewhat of an upper hand. But his forces don't seem strong enough to overwhelm the rebels - setting the stage for a longer, grinding conflict as the West debates whether to intervene, mulling the imposition of a no-fly zone that the rebels have been pleading for.

Meantime, Gadhafi forces have launched an offensive in the east, trying to push back the long stretch of rebel-held territory, which constitutes nearly the entire eastern half of the country.

Government forces drove rebel fighters out of the oil port of Ras Lanouf several days ago. Pro-Gadhafi forces were also able to bombard rebels holding another oil facility to the east, Brega, on Sunday.

Though the regime offensive is able to drive out rebels using heavy artillery, they seem to have problems holding the territory thereafter due to lack of manpower. After fleeing the bombardment Sunday, the rebels then pushed back into Brega in the evening and claimed to have captured dozens of fighters from Gadhafi's elite Khamis Brigade.

The opposition has been pleading with the West to impose a no-fly zone to help balance the scales with Gadhafi's forces. Also, the Arab League has asked the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the rebels, but for weeks, Western nations have been divided and hesitant on the move.

The Obama administration has said a no-fly zone may have limited impact, and there is far from international agreement on it.

It would require U.S. and possibly allies' aircraft to first attack Libya's anti-aircraft defenses, a move tantamount to starting war.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.