Video: Stubborn resistance in Gadhafi stronghold

  1. Closed captioning of: Stubborn resistance in Gadhafi stronghold

    >>> we have news from libya . the united nations today gave the rebels a strong show of support handing them libya 's seat at the u.n. on the ground in libya as we hear from mike taibbi the rebels' work still isn't done.

    >> reporter: in the gadhafi stronghold of bani walid forces moved in with guns blazing but were held at baby relentless return fire .

    >> they are cowards. all they do is shoot and take off.

    >> reporter: the stubborn resistance in gadhafi 's hometown where rebels have taken the airport but not the town and holdouts in the sahara where it is believed gadhafi and his contingent are hiding out. the man leading the hunt for gadhafi told nbc news they are getting close.

    >> they are going back and forth, not in one place. i think he's now under our surveillance. i think within the next ten days something should happen.

    >> reporter: in tripoli it's hard to tell the war is still going on or it was less than four weeks ago gadhafi was driven from power. it is a city pulsing with life, the markets thriving, streets cleaned, beaches packed, oil tankers waiting to be filled.

    >> we look forward now. it's a new libya now.

    >> reporter: in fact, most of libya is secure now, safe enough for a visit from british prime minister david cameron and french president nicolas sarkozy , architects of the nato bombing campaign that made the march to tripoli possible. they were given a hero's welcome both in tripoli and benghazi. still, cameron addressed gadhafi whose mythic power is not yet extinguished.

    >> it is over. give up.

    >> reporter: because the fighting won't be over, liberation won't be complete until gadhafi is no longer

msnbc.com news services
updated 9/16/2011 7:00:20 PM ET 2011-09-16T23:00:20

Moammar Gadhafi's fighters beat back an attempt by Libya's new government Friday to crush remnants of the old regime, forcing revolutionary troops into retreat in the mountains and turning Gadhafi's seaside hometown into an urban battlefield of snipers firing from mosques and heavy weapons rattling main boulevards.

The tough defense of the holdout towns of Sirte and Bani Walid displayed the firepower and resolve of the Gadhafi followers and suggested Libya's new rulers may not easily break the back of regime holdouts. It also raised fears the country could face a protracted insurgency of the sort that has played out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Gadhafi loyalists have so many weapons," cried Maab Fatel, a 28-year-old revolutionary fighter on the front lines in the mountain enclave of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli.

"This battle is really crazy," Fatel said, his uniform splattered with blood from carrying a wounded comrade.

Revolutionary forces began the day by streaming into Bani Walid but pulled back after intense fighting failed to dislodge pro-Gadhafi snipers and gunners from strategic positions. The two sides traded relentless mortar and rocket fire across a 500-yard-wide desert valley called Wadi Zeitoun that divides the town between north and south.

Mohaned Bendalla, a doctor at a field hospital in nearby Wishtata, said at least six rebels were killed and more than 50 were wounded.

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Inside the town, a radio station believed linked to one of Gadhafi's main propagandist kept up a steady stream of appeals to fight and rants that demonized the revolutionaries as traitors who did not honor Islamic values.

"These revolutionaries are fighting to drink and do drugs all the time and be like the West, dance all night," the announcer claimed. "We are a traditional tribal society that refuses such things and must fight it."

'Liberate your people'
Ahmed Omar Bani, a military spokesman for Libya's transitional government, dismissed such allegations, saying the revolutionary forces' only goal was "to liberate our people."

Image: Anti-Gadhafi fighters carry their wounded comrade in Bani Walid
Youssef Boudlal  /  Reuters
Anti-Gadhafi fighters carry their wounded comrade during fighting at the frontline, in the north of the besieged city of Bani Walid on Friday.

In Sirte, Gadhafi's birthplace on the Mediterranean coast, his backers rained gunfire down from mosque minarets and high-rise buildings on fighters pushing into the city from the west. In the streets the two sides battered each other with high-caliber machine guns, rockets and rocket-propelled grenades.

At one point, a pickup truck filled with revolutionary forces rushed back to the rear lines, its bed bloodied and strewn with the body parts and mangled face of a fighter who had been manning a machine gun. Other fighters shouting "God is great" pulled out his lifeless remains and comforted his partner, the pickup driver.

NATO warplanes swept overhead, but it was unclear whether there were fresh airstrikes to help the anti-Gadhafi advance. The alliance said it struck multiple rocket launchers, air missile systems, armored vehicles and a military storage facility in Sirte on Thursday when revolutionary units launched the offensive.

Gadhafi's spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said loyalist forces inflicted a heavy blow Friday on their enemies, killing many and taking many others hostage.

"We have the ability to continue this resistance for months," he said in a phone call to Syrian-based Al-Rai TV, which has become the mouthpiece for the former regime.

Ibrahim said some Gadhafi supporters have infiltrated the revolutionary forces and were working to sabotage them from the inside.

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Despite the latest setback, Bani, the military spokesman, said Libya's new rulers hoped to liberate the whole country by the end of this month.

The loyalists still hold a swath of Libya along the central coast and into the southern deserts more than three weeks after revolutionary fighters swept into Tripoli and drove out Gadhafi. The whereabouts of the ousted leader and several of his sons remain unknown.

Hundreds of former rebels have massed deep in the southern desert and were trying to negotiate with villagers in a pro-Gadhafi area to surrender peacefully and avoid bloodshed.

The fighters captured an air base about 45 miles north of the loyalist stronghold of Sabha on Thursday. Col. Bashir Awidat, who is from the Wadi Shati region, said they need to secure the area before moving against Sabha.

Awidat said two former rebels and four loyalists were killed in the fighting, and that they had taken 14 prisoners.

He added that the villagers had been isolated and believed Gadhafi's propaganda.

"They think that we'll raid their houses and rob them. The media coverage here has been bad for 42 years and it has trained people to think a certain way, and that will take time to change," he told The Associated Press at the air base.

Nation in transition
The new leadership has been gaining international support in its campaign to root out the rest of Gadhafi's regime and establish authority. French President Nicholas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan all visited Tripoli this week.

Erdogan joined Friday prayers in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square, the heart of the city once known as Green Square where Gadhafi's regime threw rallies of supporters before his fall.

"You have shown the whole world that no one can stand before the power and the will of the people," Erdogan told a cheering crowd of thousands. He predicted the Syrian regime would be next to fall, saying "the era of autocracy is ending."

The U.N. General Assembly also voted Friday to give Libya's seat in the world body to the National Transitional Council, which is the closest thing the oil-rich North African nation has to a government.

PhotoBlog: Rebel-backing world leaders visit Libya

The vote means that a senior council official will be able to join world leaders and speak for Libya at next week's ministerial session of the General Assembly, and participate in meetings.

Also Friday, the U.N. Security Council approved a new U.N. mission in Libya and the unfreezing of assets of two major oil companies. It also lifted a ban on flights by Libyan aircraft and modified an arms embargo.

But the fierce resistance in Bani Walid and Sirte underscored how difficult the task of uprooting Gadhafi's last bastions might be. The revolutionary forces have been looming on the outskirts of the two towns for weeks, and attempted another significant assault on Bani Walid last week, only to be repelled by unexpectedly strong loyalist counterattacks.

The fighters made their first big foray into Sirte on Thursday but met a heavy backlash. A roadside bomb struck a bus, killing 11 former rebels on board.

Fighting, bullet holes and graffiti
On Friday, smoke rose above the city from heavy fighting, much of it along one of Sirte's main roads, the First of September Street, a date that marks the anniversary of Gadhafi's more than 40-year rule.

Revolutionary forces barraged by sniper fire and rockets let loose with machine guns fixed on the back of pickup trucks.

Nearby buildings were pockmarked with bullet holes. Commanders said they had captured the city's old airport on its western edge.

In Bani Walid, fighters raised the new Libyan flag over an abandoned electricity building before the order to pull back. Around the buildings lay a huge Gadhafi poster bent in half and torn billboards with pictures of the ousted dictator. The walls were still sprayed with graffiti reading, "Long live Moammar."

___

Al-Shalchi reported from Bani Walid. Associated Press writers Kim Gamel in Tripoli, Libya, Ben Hubbard at the Jalloul Air Force Base, Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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