THE leader of the new Libyan rebel coalition has said his volunteer army will continue to fight Gadaffi’s troops through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – that starts August 2 – if they have still failed to take the capital Tripoli.
Recent reports suggest the president could be ready to step down under a brokered deal but the Coalition will continue to fight on until a conclusion is met.
Fauzy Bokatif, the head of the new Coalition of the Revolutionary Forces that brings all rebel groups under one command, said at a press conference on Tuesday that significant progress was being made on the western front.
He also said he would have some ‘good news’ to announce by Thursday promising journalists a trip to the frontline which was later withdrawn possibly in the hope of having taken Brega, an oil town west of Benghazi, that still remains in Gadaffi’s hands.
However Ismail Alsalaby, the Coalition’s battlefield commander, said on Tuesday: “Our focus is on Tripoli and the western front,” adding, “we will see in the next few days the results of our operations.”
The international appetite for the continuing offensive supported by NATO air-power is waning as the conflict draws into its fifth month with increasing casualties that has led to the UN, France, Russia and the African Union all leaning towards a negotiated settlement.
However the rebel leaders, the USA, Britain, France and Russia have all said Gaddafi must step down as part of any agreement.
Alain Juppe, France’s foreign minister, said on Tuesday that indications are that the president is indeed ready to go but Libyans in Benghazi said they will believe it when they see it believing he is playing for time.
With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan beginning on August 1 pressure is mounting to reach a conclusion to the conflict by the end of July.
However Bokatif said ‘no outside forces were dictating the revolutionary force’s strategy.”
Abdul Jawad, the central battlefield commander and Coalition spokesman, said progress had been slow as it had taken time to align his forces, bring in artillery and tanks and dig trenches.
He said: “Transforming a volunteer army into a traditional army takes time and this is what we have been doing,” adding, “the tactics have become more like a traditional war.”
The majority of soldiers have never held a gun before let alone launched a rocket.
Jawad said that the rebels were not working to any time frame and were prepared to fight during Ramadan if necessary.
He said: “Those who are on the frontline and committed to their objectives are not under pressure to fulfil any time frame.”
On Thursday evening reports from the frontline said Brega had been taken but by morning it was acknowledged a further offensive would be needed.
At the Coalition’s unveiling it was stated that its objectives were to liberate Libya from Gadaffi’s forces, support the interim government in Benghazi, the Transitional National Council, and control the spread of arms in the south.