Transitional National Council forces announced Thursday night that they had taken most of Sirte, the birthplace of Muammar Qaddafi where elements of his dreaded 32nd Brigade had held out. Some of these forces are said to be holed up still in a line of villas near the beach, but the center of the town and most of its surburbs are said to have fallen.
Sirte has been besieged for two weeks, and NATO has flown 250 sorties against Qaddafi forces in the environs, hitting tanks and weapons depots. The military council of Misrata, which is in charge of the operation, said that its fighters entered the city from 3 directions late Thursday.
In Bani Walid, another small Qaddafi-held town, residents began fleeing Thursday ahead of the end of the amnesty period offered fighters in the city by the TNC.
Sirte, Bani Walid and Sabha in the far south were the remaining holdouts after most of the country rebelled against Qaddafi and threw off his rule. Each is a town of about 120,000. If Sirte really has fallen, then the route between Benghazi and Tripoli along the Mediterranean is now clear.
NATO is impatient for the TNC to assert its authority throughout the country before the UN-authorized protection mission ends on September 27, since it would prefer not to have to go back to the UN Security Council for an extension.
On another front, the Egyptian foreign minister is in Tripoli for talks with the new Libyan government, according to MENA:
“Tripoli, Libya, 15 September: Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Amr held talks here on Thursday (15 September) on cooperation between Libya and Egypt with Mahmud Jibril, the head of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC)’s executive bureau.
During the talks, Amr affirmed that the Egyptian people were very pleased with the success of the Libyan revolution which “completed a freedom bridge between Egypt and Tunisia.”
The foreign minister also stressed Egypt’s readiness to cooperate with Libya in such transitional phase in the fields of education, training cadres, mines removal and health.”
Those who keep denouncing the Libyan Revolution as somehow not indigenous (?) because it got Western help should remember that behind the scenes the revolutionary governments of Egypt and Tunisia were very much working against Qaddafi, who, if he had remained in power, would have attempted to undermine their experiments in democratic governance. That is, regional and Muslim forces also supported the Libyan revolution.
Meanwhile, military commander of Tripoli Abdul Hakim Belhadj gave an interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat that has been translated by the USG Open Source Center. He denied that faction-fighting is going on in Tripoli, said security is fairly good there, and played down alleged conflicts between Muslim fundamentalist and more secular forces. Excerpt below:
Libya: Tripoli Liberation Commander Denies ‘Disagreements’ Between Islamists, TNC
Telephone interview with Abd-al-Hakim Bilhaj, commander of the Tripoli liberation operation, by Khalid Mahmud, from Tripoli on 14 September: “Abd-al-Hakim Bilhaj, Commander of the Tripoli Liberation Operation: ‘The Libyan Islamic Combat Group No Longer Exists Following Decision To Permanently Dissolve It;’ Says in Interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat: ‘We Have Serious Challenge To Secure Cities, Build Modern Civil Society.'”
Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online
Thursday, September 15, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Translated Text…
Abd-al-Hakim Bilhaj, military commander of the Libyan revolutionaries and commander of the operation to liberate the capital, Tripoli, from the grip of fugitive leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, said the security situation in the Libyan capital is now stable and secure and pointed out that the Supreme Security Council has taken the necessary measures to secure the government interests and diplomatic missions.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday over the telephone from his headquarters in Tripoli, Bilhaj confirmed that no security violations were committed because of what he called the “people’s awareness to secure their capital.”
Bilhaj first came to the forefront of the political and media scene in Libya when he himself led the revolutionary invasion against Al-Qadhafi’s stronghold in the Bab-al-Aziziyah barracks in Tripoli on 21 August. Because of his position as commander and his involvement in a series of endless daily meetings, it is difficult to reach Bilhaj or to convince him to hold a press interview. However, he gave Al-Sharq al-Awsat an exclusive interview over the telephone during which he dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.
Bilhaj is regarded as one of the most prominent important leaders in the Islamic Combat Group Organization which had in the past attempted to overthrow the regime and assassinate Al-Qadhafi a number of times before he was arrested by the American intelligence which then handed him over to Al-Qadhafi’s regime within the framework of security and intelligence relations between Washington and Tripoli, and where he was tortured and imprisoned. Bilhaj stressed that the Libyan Islamic Combat Group no longer exists on the ground following the decision to disband it and the announcement of the formation of the Islamic Movement for Change. He denied that the movement is placing any conditions or pressure on Dr Mahmud Jibril who is currently forming the first transitional government to lead Libya in the phase that follows the announcement of the fall of the Al-Qadhafi regime.
He believed that the announcement of certain political agendas will not take place right now and this will wait until the liberation of the remaining Libyan cities from the grip of Al-Qadhafi. Bihaj distanced himself from the statements made by Shaykh Ali al-Salabi, the prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader who publicly asked Jibril to submit his resignation.
Bilhaj said that Jibril had welcomed these criticisms and stressed that the Libyans will be the ones concerned in seeing a different performance for the officials in the Transitional National Council and will be evaluating it.
Following is the text of the interview:
(Mahmud) What is the position now in Tripoli?
(Bilhaj) Of course the position in terms of security is stable and secure, thanks be to God. The capital is witnessing events, celebrations, and various activities which are represented in meetings at the highest levels. You all saw the popular meeting that was attended by adviser Mustafa Abd-al-Jalil in Martyrs Square. This is the greatest proof that the city streets are secure. We are also in the process of preparing and forming a supreme committee concerned with affairs to secure the capital. We also have an operations room and it is preparing the capabilities and mobilizing forces from the revolutionary brigades in order to distribute them to places that need security such as the political and economic institutions along with the diplomatic missions. All of this is being coordinated between all brigades, and no doubt the revolutionaries within, in addition to coordination between the Tripoli revolutionaries and all the brigades that participated in the liberation and who came from neighboring cities to the capital, Tripoli. We can say (the position) is going from good to better. You have seen, noticed, and followed that no security violations have been committed and this is thanks to God and because people are aware of the need to secure their capital.
(Mahmud) It seems that there is a kind of early confrontation between the Islamists and the Transitional Council, let us say. Can you tell us about what is really going on?
(Bilhaj) First, I do not call it a confrontation. It is probably more appropriate to call it an expression or consolidating the free democratic atmosphere that the Libyans have now started to breathe. We were denied this difference in opinion for over four decades. We welcome different opinions and points of view because it is what we want and is present in all civil modern and developed countries. We carried out this revolution so we have a civil society that has a law that governs it; a country that has the slogan of freedom, happiness, security, and stability flying over it. The talk about disagreement if you so want to call it that, does not exist. The difference in opinion that we see is something acceptable and normal. As for announcing programs and agendas, I think this is premature because we are in the process of working on liberating the rest of the Libyan cities. As you know there are many cities that continue to be under the tyranny of the oppressive Al-Qadhafi forces. There is also another challenge and that is to secure the cities; and a more serious challenge which is to build a modern civil state.
(Mahmud) Do you agree with Dr Jibril that the time for the political game has yet to arrive in Libya?
(Bilhaj) There is no doubt that we continue to engage in a liberation war and we are engaging in battles that require mobilizing efforts and energies in order to secure the liberated cities and in order to provide services and build institutions that protect the interests of all Libyans. Therefore, probably yes it is a bit early to talk about political and other projects.
(Mahmud) Is it true that the Islamic Combat Group is laying conditions and demanding a share in the new government as some political currents are doing?
(Bilhaj) First of all, as you know Islamic combat groups do not exist. The group was disbanded after we presented corrective studies. The Libyan Islamic Movement for Change was also announced under which come many of those who belonged to the previous group. The group now no longer exists on the ground. As for participation, we as Libyans are concerned about the matter because we belong to this country and political affairs occupy the minds of all Libyans but the timing is not right now.”