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Ragtag rebels beaten back in Libya

WADI DINAR, Libya -- The rockets and mortars rained down on the position where the revolutionaries had retreated on the outskirts of the mountainous stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists. So, in a fury, the fighters charged wild and unorganized yesterday, back into the city for yet another day of fighting.

Fighters for Libya's new rulers have been throwing themselves into the battle to take Bani Walid for days with no progress against the old regime loyalists, strongly fortified and bristling with heavy weaponry. The frustration is showing among the amateur revolutionary fighters.

The trained military of the National Transitional Council, the interim government, has pulled away from Bani Walid to regroup and reinforce for a new assault after they were heavily beaten in the city Friday.

That has left ragtag, undisciplined volunteers at the front line. Most are youths from the most die-hard revolutionary neighborhoods of Tripoli, like Souq al-Jomaa or Tajoura, strong on zeal to kill some Gadhafi supporters and weak on training on how to do so.

Frustrated fighters turn blame on units of city residents fighting alongside them but whose loyalties some suspect.

The new leadership is facing a tough fight uprooting the remnants of Gadhafi's regime, nearly four weeks after the rebels rolled into Tripoli on Aug. 21 and ousted the now fugitive leader.

Bani Walid, southeast of the capital, is just one holdout. Fighting is also raging at Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown on the Mediterranean coast. The regime stronghold of Sabha lies hundreds of miles away in the southern deserts, and there are others deep in the central deserts like the cities of Houn and Zallah.

The battle at Sirte, launched Friday, has also been fierce, but there the revolutionaries have been more organized and have made slow progress.

Most of the fighters besieging Sirte are from Misrata, a city farther northwest along the coast that survived a brutal weeks-long siege by Gadhafi forces during the civil war. That conflict left them battle-hardened and savvy on the tactics of urban fighting.

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