SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) – Libyan transitional government forces attacked deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi’s security headquarters in the centre of his hometown of Sirte, hoping that once the buildings had been captured the fight for the city would be won.
The protracted battle for Sirte, a showpiece Mediterranean coastal city largely loyal to Gaddafi, has led to concerns the many civilian casualties will breed long-term hostility that will make it very hard for the National Transitional Council (NTC) to unite the country once the fighting is over.
NTC forces have repeatedly claimed to be on the point of victory in Sirte, only to suffer sudden reversals at the hands of a tenacious enemy fighting for its life, surrounded on three sides and with its back to the sea. But as night fell yesterday, pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns pounded the white security buildings on a tree-lined square with a fountain in the centre while infantry blasted away with AK-47s from behind a high concrete wall, Reuters witnesses said.
One of the pick-up gunners was shot in the face, his gun rotating repeatedly on its axis as he fell dead to the ground.
“We are now in the centre of Sirte,” Colonel Salam Al Shalmany told Reuters at the scene. “They are in these buildings about half a kilometre from where we are. Once we finish this, it’s over. This has gone on too long.”
But advances by NTC forces have often proved fragile. Earlier yesterday, a large group of fighters, approaching Sirte from the west and trying to pin down Gaddafi loyalists against the sea, saw their advance suddenly collapse into a rout under heavy and accurate mortar bombardment.