Facing off in the desert
Just a few days ago, rebel militiamen were riding high and slapping each other’s backs, vowing “tomorrow, Tripoli.” They’d seized the key oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf on successive days, and had rolled west into Bin Jawwad unopposed on Saturday.
But then Qaddafi struck back, ousting the disorganized fighters from Bin Jawwad on Sunday, and inflicting heavy losses on them both today and yesterday in Ras Lanuf. This town is at the heart of a string of oil complexes along Libya’s Gulf of Sidra. In addition to the export terminal to the town’s west, just east is one of Libya’s largest refineries.
The desert coast between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawwad has been turned into a chaotic free-fire zone in the past few days. The rebel militia and some defected Army units are clustered around Ras Lanuf and are being supplied from Benghazi, the rebel group’s nominal capital, and other towns to the east.
Pro-Qaddafi forces appear to be based in Bin Jawwad and the desert around town. They have more rockets and mortars, and air support that terrifies the rebel militiamen. They’re being supplied from Sirte, the next town west along the coast and Qaddafi's major stronghold after Tripoli.