Retreat for Rebels; Libyan Foreign Minister Quits
By C.J. CHIVERS and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
Published: March 30, 2011BREGA, Libya — Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi advanced rapidly on Wednesday, seizing towns they ceded just days ago after intense allied airstrikes and hounding rebel fighters into a chaotic retreat.
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In a stunning setback for the Qaddafi government, however, one of its most senior officials, foreign minister Moussa Koussa, flew to London on Wednesday and declared that he could no longer serve as a representative of the Libyan government, the British government said in a statement.
“He has told us that he is resigning his post,” the statement said. “We are discussing this with him and we will release further detail in due course.”
The Obama administration has been making strenuous efforts to convince the leadership around Colonel Qaddafi to abandon their support for the dictator. In Mr. Koussa they seem to have met with their first success, as his defection sent shockwaves through Tripoli. He has been a close confidant of Colonel Qaddafi and a pillar of the regime since the early days of the revolution, and previously headed the fearsome secret police.
But the defection of Mr. Koussa was not going to help the rebels’ cause. Having abandoned Bin Jawwad on Tuesday and the oil town of Ras Lanuf on Wednesday, the rebels continued their eastward retreat, fleeing before the loyalists’ shelling and missile attacks from another oil town, Brega, and falling back toward the strategically located city of Ajdabiya. On Wednesday afternoon, residents of Ajdabiya were seen fleeing along the road north to Benghazi, the rebel capital and stronghold that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces reached before the allied air campaign got underway nearly two weeks ago.
There were few signs of the punishing airstrikes that reversed the loyalists’ first push eastward into rebel-held territory. But military experts said they expected the counterattack to expose Colonel Qaddafi’s forces to renewed attacks, and an American military spokesman said that coalition warplanes resumed bombing the pro-Qaddafi units on Wednesday, without specifying either the timing or locations.
“The operation is continuing and will continue throughout the transition” to NATO command, said Capt. Clint Gebke. There were 102 airstrikes over a 24-hour period ending at 12 a.m. Eastern time, according to the United States Africa Command.Read More...