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Libya fighters in 'final stages' to take Gadhafi hometown, they say

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:42 PM EDT, Sun October 9, 2011
Libyan fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) during fighting in the town of Sirte on October 8, 2011.
Libyan fighters loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC) during fighting in the town of Sirte on October 8, 2011.
  • NEW: A hospital in Sirte, one of the last bastions of pro-Gadhafi troops, falls, the NTC says
  • NEW: Troops loyal to Libya's new leaders enter Bani Walid for the first time
  • About 10 are killed and more than 100 wounded in the fighting for Sirte
  • The NTC has been battling hard to take control of Gadhafi's hometown

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Fighters loyal to Libya's new leaders say they have "reached the final stages of the fight" to take control of former leader Moammar Gadhafi's hometown.

About 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the fighting overnight, said Al Zubair Al Kadi, a field commander on the frontline in Sirte, on Sunday.

Troops loyal to the National Transitional Council also entered the pro-Gadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid for the first time on Sunday, said Abdulla Kenshill, an NTC spokesman there.

NTC forces "liberated" nearby the villages of Teninai and Shuwaikh overnight, and advanced to within a kilometer (about three-fifths of a mile) of Bani Walid's main market, he said.

They also took control of the airport in the southwest of the city, he said.

Five fighters were badly injured, he added.

In Gadhafi's hometown, NTC fighters "took over Sirte University last night and all the residential buildings around it, including the student dormitories," Al Kadi said.

Troops loyal to the National Transitional Council "caught many African mercenaries, mostly from Mauritania, while our men were combing the buildings for snipers," he said.

Fighting continues in Sirte, Libya
Gadhafi loyalists hold out in Sirte

At least one hospital held out but fell to the new authorities on Sunday, he said.

"Our fighters now have full control of the Ibn Sina main hospital in Sirte after fierce clashes," he said, adding that 17 pro-Gadhafi fighters had been captured.

"You can say that we have reached the final stages of the fight," he said before the hospital was taken.

The fall of Sirte cannot 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 and put up stiff resistance.

The NTC lost 26 men Friday, said Mohammed Sayeh, a senior council member.

But he said he was confident that Sirte would 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 has any 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.

Gadhafi, wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, for on charges of 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.

CNNs Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.

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