By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi’s forces are reported to be retreating, while rebels opposed to his regime, backed by Western-led air strikes, are reported to now control all of the main oil terminals in eastern Libya.
As the rebels continued to move westward, international air raids were reported to have targeted Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte on the night of March 27.
Further explosions were also reported in the Qaddafi-controlled capital, Tripoli.
With Western barrages pushing Qaddafi’s forces on the defensive, the rebels have now taken control of the eastern coastal towns of Ras Lanuf, Brega, Uqayla, and Bin Jawad, after earlier seizing control of Ajdabiya.
In another development, NATO has announced that agreement has been reached for the alliance to take full control of the Libyan military operation from what had been a U.S.-led coalition.
In an interview on U.S. television, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Qaddafi regime had not posed an imminent threat to the United States, nor was Libya of “vital interest” to U.S. security.
However, he said the U.S. decided to join the United Nations-backed international intervention in order to protect Libyan civilians and to prevent Libyan refugees from potentially destabilizing neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.
Gates added that an international conference in London on March 29 would discuss political strategies aimed at ending Qaddafi’s more than 40-year rule.
“We see them [Qaddafi’s forces] beginning to move back to the west, retreating,” said Gates. “So this eventually is going to have to be settled by the Libyans themselves. Perhaps the UN can mediate or whatever, but in terms of the military commitment, the president has put some very strict limitations in terms of what we are prepared to do.”
President Barack Obama was scheduled to give a televised address on March 28 to further explain America’s strategy in the Libyan conflict.