Libya’s rebels stepped up an assault on the eastern oil town of Brega on Friday, claiming good progress although three rebels were killed at the front and scores more returned wounded.
A day after launching a three-pronged attack from Ajdabiya, the strategic town 80 kilometers (50 miles) further to the east, the rebels said they had captured one of Muammar Qaddafi’s soldiers and 10 vehicles.
“There is fighting taking place to the north (of the main road between Ajdabiya and Brega) and the south and the middle,” said spokesman Mohammed Zawi.
“We are making good progress in the north. The fighters there can see Brega. We are within sight of Brega,” Mr. Zawi said.
Radio chatter from Colonel Qaddafi’s forces showed them asking for reinforcements and for people to come and collect the dead and wounded in the north.
Mr. Zawi said rebel troops were also making “solid progress” in the south.
In Ajdabiya, ambulances and pickup trucks arrived in waves at the crossroads town’s main hospital, bringing in at least three dead rebel fighters and 73 wounded.
The hospital documented the deaths of Sabri Al Minfi, 25, Abdulmola Al Fayturi, 34, and Al Sanussi Mohammed, 24, who hailed from Bayda, Benghazi and Ajdabiya respectively.
The majority of rebels at the hospital were being treated for burns and wounds caused by shrapnel from Grad rockets, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
The testimony of both rebel fighters and medical officials suggested the heaviest fighting was taking place past the half-way point between the two towns, south of the main road in the desert.
One of the wounded was a heavy-set man who could be heard hysterically crying: “I cannot see anything, I cannot see anything. What is wrong with my eyes?”
The rebels began the first stages of their offensive on Brega on Thursday, hoping to dislodge loyalist troops and win a key strategic victory against the Colonel Qaddafi regime.
One rebel fighter was killed and 12 more wounded at the Brega front line, doctors said at the time as fighters reported the first columns advancing beyond positions where they have been stuck for weeks.
Military sources had said the rebels would launch their main attack on the port town late on Thursday or early Friday.
“We are preparing to enter Brega; the attack will come soon,” said one rebel official, adding that the offensive had been slated for Wednesday night but was delayed.
Brega, nestled at the southeastern tip of the Gulf of Sirte, has changed hands multiple times during Libya’s civil war, which soon enters its fifth month.
The town’s vast oil refinery and storage facilities are just one reason for its strategic value.
Rebels in recent weeks have been holed up at a forward position 40 kilometers (25 miles) from both Brega and Ajdabiya, inching forward and clearing mines so their handful of T-72 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can have a freer rein.