The rockets and mortars are relentless, dropping one after the other all around the northern edge of Bani Walid as the revolutionary forces try to advance. The ambulances are not far behind, screeching back up the road to the north, towards the trauma bays in the small village beyond. The incoming fire keeps the anti-Gaddafi fighters running and confuses an already chaotic battlefield. The anti-Gaddafi soldiers launched their latest assault into one of the last of Gaddafi’s strongholds at around 7.30am.
Initially they made ground – advancing toward the centre. Some fighters on the outskirts said they had managed to seize a hotel and market square. But every step forward is pushed back.
The terrain favours their enemy, and they have had weeks to build up defences and place their best marksmen on the hills overlooking the approaches. Even as they edge forward into the scattering of hamlets in the valley, they are being outsmarted by Gaddafi’s well-trained soldiers. One doctor who’s been treating the ever-increasing number of casualties told us the front ranks of the revolutionary fighters are being outflanked by snipers. As they move in between the houses, they’re finding themselves completely surrounded – left with no way out as the bullets rain down.
The die-hard remnants of the old regime clearly intend to fight to the very end. They are holding out, undaunted by the repeated Nato air strikes over the last two weeks.
Despite what Nato is calling an “intensive presence” over the area and the targeting of military hardware and positions, they still have an armoury of heavy weaponry which they are using to devastating effect.
At one of the checkpoints on the outskirts, the pressure is too much and an argument breaks out between the rebels.
When they launched their first attack into the city, they were optimistic it would all be over in days.
It’s now dawning on them it will take some time yet before the rebel flag is flying in the centre of Bani Walid.