Libyan rebels took back a key oil town and pushed westward today toward the capital, seizing momentum from the international airstrikes that tipped the balance away from Moammar Gadhafi. Brega, a main oil export terminal in eastern Libya, fell after a skirmish late yesterday and rebel forces moved swiftly west, seizing the tiny desert town of Al-Egila on their way to the massive oil refining complex of Ras Lanouf. "There was no resistance. Gadhafi's forces just melted away," says a 31-year-old volunteer. "This couldn't have happened without NATO. They gave us big support." He said that rebels had already reached Ras Lanouf. Just two weeks ago, rebels lost control of Brega.
Ras Lanouf and Brega combined would be responsible for a large chunk of Libya's 1.5 million barrels of daily exports, which have all but stopped since the uprising that began Feb. 15. "As they move round the coast, of course, the rebels will increasingly control the exit points of Libya's oil," British Defense Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC. The Gadhafi regime yesterday acknowledged the airstrikes had forced its troops to retreat and accused international forces of choosing sides. NATO is expected to take command today of the no-fly zone mission.