TOPICS > World

Gadhafi’s Troops Pummel Rebels as Key Libyan Official Defects to London

March 30, 2011 at 6:19 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: A key official in the Gadhafi government defected today. The foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, sought refuge in London, according to Britain’s Foreign Office.

On the ground, the momentum shifted again in Gadhafi’s favor, as government troops reversed the gains rebels made just two days ago. Opposition forces retreated east, giving up the towns along the way. And there were reports of some heading back to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports from the front lines.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The rebels set fire to one of Col. Gadhafi’s old tanks before fleeing Ras Lanuf this morning. It must have been satisfying to watch it go up in flames, but it doesn’t alter the balance of forces in this war.

In Brega, 60 miles to the east, they were burning his green flag. Renewed airstrikes today haven’t stopped Col. Gadhafi’s advance.

MARAI NEEJM (through translator): When we were in El Agheila, we were suddenly bombed from three directions, north, south and west. We now demand that the U.N., if they support the Libyan people, supply us with weapons, and NATO should carry out more airstrikes, so we can go forward.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The fighters seem to get younger by the day. Ahmed Saleh said he was 17. He and his friends had just fled the front line.

You have a knife?

MAN: Yes.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Show us your knife. How can you — how can you fight a tank with a knife?

“Allah would help,” he said.

Does your mother know you’re here? What does she say?

He said his mother was happy he was with the fighters. By mid-afternoon, people were streaming out of Ajdabiya, 60 miles further east, just as they did three weeks ago, when Col. Gadhafi’s troops first attacked.

Hundreds of families and fighters are fleeing Ajdabiya, heading down the road towards Benghazi. And we’re going, too. In the last two days, the whole momentum of this war has reversed. Col. Gadhafi’s forces are coming back down the road towards us. It seems that there’s nothing to stop them, because the rebels are so weak.

They are, however, still full of enthusiasm and, occasionally, eccentricity.

MAN: (INAUDIBLE) for Sarkozy and France people from all Libyan people.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Grateful to the French and other members of the coalition, and increasingly desperate.