Gaddafi forces push rebels back

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: In Libya hopes for changed are pinned on the ragtag army of rebels that's battling the Gaddafi regime. The rebels had made significant progress in recent days thanks to airstrikes by U.S. and allied planes that pushed the government forces back. But today the news for the rebels is not good. They were forced to retreat after being outgunned by pro-Gaddafi troops. The World's Ben Gilbert is in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi. Where have the rebels lost ground and the government forces moved in, Ben?

Ben Gilbert: Well the rebels have lost most of the ground that the gained over the last week. There are reports of shelling at the western entrance of Ajdabiya, which is the town that they freed last weekend and then proceeded to push hundreds of miles toward Colonel Gaddafi's stronghold of Sirte, just about in the middle between Benghazi and Tripoli. Since they made that push they have been pushed all the way back to nearly Ajdabiya, at least that's the reports that we're getting here in Benghazi and they are getting pummeled with rockets with ambushes and by artillery. And that's what we know so far and the rebels are not organized; they are not a trained military force so every time they encounter these bombardments they're falling back and they're falling back fast and there's no evidence so far of coalition airstrikes to give them cover.

Mullins: And where are the coalition though, in terms of airstrikes? Because we heard that the strikes are continuing but is that not something that you have been able to witness on the ground?

Gilbert: Well the fighting today took place between 150 miles and about 300 miles away from Benghazi. That's how far they've been pushed back in the last few days. There were some reports of airstrikes but those have not been confirmed because it could have been artillery being used, the sound of artillery on the battlefield. So we're not sure exactly if there have been airstrikes today, significant at least airstrikes, on Colonel Gaddafi's forces pushing east yet today.

Mullins: And is that the reasons that the rebels are finding it hard to hold ground? I mean, you say they lost pretty much everything they gained over the past week. Is their success that tied to the airstrikes by the coalition forces?

Gilbert: It would seem so. There was just a press conference with the spokesman for the Provisional Council, Free Libya's military in the east, and he said that basically the militias today melted into the sand like snow. Those were his words and he's the spokesman for these forces who are supposed to be fighting Colonel Gaddafi. There's been a lot of talk about these forces being trained up and then coming under the command of former army officers who defected but it seems without the coalition air cover and airstrikes that they are very much at the whim of Gaddafi's much stronger, much better armed forces.

Mullins: All right. One more thing, Ben. If it seems as though government forces are bearing down on the area around Benghazi, where you are now. They've already advanced on Ajdabiya. Are residents staying there in Benghazi or are people moving out now? What is it like among the civilians there?

Gilbert: It's tense here and there are refugees fleeing from Ajdabiya to Benghazi but in Benghazi right now there is a certain amount of faith that the international coalition will intervene and will not allow the city to be overrun or for Gaddafi's troops to enter the city simply because there's so much riding on this. I mean there are reports that there is a French Envoy who's come here. An American Envoy is on his way as well. The international community has a lot riding on this and they're hopeful that the international community's reputation will keep the troops out of Benghazi.

Mullins: Reporter Ben Gilbert in Benghazi, Libya. Thank you very much, Ben.

Gilbert: Thanks, Lisa.

Mullins: You can get a visual of the situation in Libya on our website. We have posted a map detailing where the fighting and the airstrikes are taking place. You can find that and more at theworld.org.