- 26 National Transitional Council fighters died Friday
- Military commanders have told the U.S. defense chief that Sirte will fall in days
- The battle for Moammar Gadhafi's hometown has raged for weeks
Having informed the U.S. defense chief that Sirte will fall in days, Libya's revolutionary forces launched another major offensive in the coastal city where Moammar Gadhafi was born.
The battles have been fierce. The National Transitional Council lost 26 men Friday, said Mohammed Sayeh a senior council member. But he remained confident that Sirte will be under the council's control within days.
That is what the council's military commanders told U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Friday, according to a senior U.S. defense official traveling with him.
Panetta met with the commanders at the naval base that hosts the U.S. Sixth Fleet in Italy, the official said.
The commanders said they have no reason to believe Gadhafi can exercise command and control of those militia members who remain loyal to him, the official said.
They further believe that, although the anti-Gadhafi forces are gaining the ability to exercise control, they will likely need training to develop their capabilities, the official said.
Still, no timetable has been drawn up for when commanders will recommend that NATO forces end their involvement, the official said.
The fall of Sirte could not come soon enough for Libya's new leaders, eager to declare liberation once the birthplace of Gadhafi is under their control. But battles for the coastal city southeast of Tripoli have raged for weeks as Gadhafi loyalists dug in to put up stiff resistance.
Complicating the matter was the resignation Friday of Mahdi al-Harati, the deputy head of the Tripoli Military Council, Sayeh said.
"He resigned due to differences with the NTC on the planning of the security of Tripoli. We are the official governing body and the efforts of the revolutionaries that fought for the liberation are appreciated but the command must be centralized," Sayeh said.
Gadhafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged crimes against humanity, has not been seen in public in months. Syrian-based television aired an audio message Thursday that was purportedly from the deposed leader. In it, the speaker urged Libyans to protest the nation's new leadership.