Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces retreated from this strategic city on Saturday, running for dozens of miles back along the coast in the first significant advance for Libyan rebels since American and European airstrikes began a week ago.
The rebel victory was the first sign that the allied attacks, directed not only against Colonel Qaddafi’s aircraft and defenses but also against his ground troops, were changing the dynamics of the battle for control of the country. As night fell, rebel forces had not only recaptured Ajdabiya, a crucial hub city in eastern Libya, but had also driven almost uncontested to the town of Brega, erasing weeks of loss as the airstrikes opened the way.
In Ajdabiya, the charred hulls of government tanks hit by allied missile strikes and strafing runs through the night were still smoldering on Saturday at the city’s gates, where they had driven back rebel assaults over the past few days. But on Saturday, hundreds of rebels streamed in, honking their horns, shooting weapons into the air and waving their tricolored flags in celebration.
“Without the planes, we couldn’t have done this,” Ahmed Faraj, 38, told The Associated Press. “With the help of the planes, we are going to push onward to Tripoli, God willing.”