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One thing is clear in Libya: Rebels can't advance without air support

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The rebels then began their second surge across the desert, making it to the outskirts of Sirte – Qaddafi's hometown – on Sunday in their pickup trucks and Chevy sedans behind an advancing curtain of airstrikes that Qaddafi’s forces had no answer for. Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawwad, two towns they lost before the UN Security Council took action, were easily reclaimed for “Free Libya.”

But then yesterday, for whatever reason, the sorties that had disrupted Qaddafi’s supply lines and made it impossible to move his forces east dried up.

Government troops began to flank the disorganized rebels at desert crossroads, and began to pepper them with the same rocket and mortar fire that drove them back earlier this month.

At least 10 rebels have died in the fighting around Ras Lanuf and the hamlet of Uqayla, which is further east, in the past 24 hours, according to the hospitals at Ras Lanuf and Ajdabiya.

RELATED: A primer on Libya's key cities

Airstrikes dried up yesterday. Why?

The reasons for the lack of support yesterday were unclear, though they followed a confusing speech in which President Barack Obama said international action here was not about “regime change” while also insisting that Qaddafi must leave power.

The UN mandate to “protect civilians” had been interpreted fairly expansively in its first week, with Qaddafi’s tanks destroyed in clearly defensive positions around Ajdabiya. But at least for a day, the mission appeared to have shifted.

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