Anti-Qaddafi fighters said yesterday they had captured the airport and a garrison in the defeated Libyan despot’s southern redoubt Sabha, as fighting raged in two of his northern strongholds.
The battlefield victories came as the US and its allies prepared to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss the future of the new Libya.
Muammar Qaddafi, for decades an outlandish fixture at the UN gathering with his tent and rambling speeches, will be absent in New York as the National Transitional Council (NTC) rebels who ousted him are ushered into the spotlight.
NTC forces early yesterday announced the capture of the airport and garrison at Sabha, a strategic desert city 800km south of Tripoli.
Fighting still raged in some quarters, but the pro-NTC forces would take total control of Sabha “in some hours,” said Mohammed Wardugu, spokesman for the “Desert Shield Brigade.”
They also had seized one of Qaddafi’s senior generals and forced more than 300 of his mercenaries to flee, said Wardugu, brother of brigade commander Barka Wardugu.
“Our fighters ambushed then and killed, wounded or captured many,” he said in the former rebel stronghold of Benghazi, without giving figures.
“General Belgacem al-Abaaj, Qaddafi’s intelligence chief in the al-Khofra region, was captured” on Monday about 100km from Sabha, Wardugu said.
Abaaj, who had been sought by the NTC’s forces, was seized with members of his family who were traveling in five four-wheel drive vehicles.
“This general has committed many crimes in Al-Khofra [in Libya’s far south] and when this town was liberated he fled toward Al-Jufra [center],” where he commanded sabotage operations against the new regime forces, Wardugu said.
In the north, dozens of new regime fighters stormed the town of Sultana, braving rocket and artillery attacks as they marked another victory in their march towards Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown on the Mediterranean coast.
Shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and “Hold your heads high, you are Libyans,” the fighters drove into Sultana — the site of steady fighting in the past two days — pushing Qaddafi’s diehards back toward Sirte.
“They want a war, they are getting one. We will kick their butts,” said one of the fighters, Saleh Drisi, as he jumped from his pick-up truck and barged into a house, searching for Qaddafi loyalists.
The column of fighters advancing on Sirte from the west were to join other NTC forces already at the gates of the city who have been fighting Qaddafi loyalists there since the weekend.
Fighting had also raged on Monday in Bani Walid when NTC fighters attacked the oasis town southeast of Tripoli where Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam is believed holed up, possibly with his father.
Qaddafi, Saif al-Islam and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi have been on the run since rebels overran Tripoli on Aug. 23. They are wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
In Benghazi, the spokesman for the pro-NTC forces fighting in and around Sabha launched an urgent appeal for international aid on behalf of the residents in the region.
Wardugu appealed to “France, Britain, the United States, to all Western nations, to the Arab countries and to humanitarian organizations to bring in aid,” because people were suffering from a lack of food, water, electricity and medicine.