Libya’s ramshackle rebel army pushed west yesterday to retake a series of towns from the forces of Muammar Gaddafi as they pulled back under pressure from Western airstrikes.

Emboldened by the capture of the strategic town of Ajdabiyah with the help of foreign warplanes on Saturday, the rebels have within two days dramatically reversed military losses in their five-week insurgency and regained control of all the main oil terminals in eastern Libya, as far as the town of Bin Jawad.

Rebels said they now had their sights on the coastal town of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown and an important military base about 93 miles further along the coastal road.

A Reuters reporter in Sirte heard four blasts last night. It was unclear if they were in the town or its outskirts.

The reporter also saw a convoy of 20 military vehicles including truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns leaving Sirte and moving westward toward Tripoli, along with dozens of civilian cars carrying families and stuffed with personal belongings.

Getting out

The United States will cut its military role in Libya in the next week or so and start to focus on how to ease Gaddafi from power, top U.S. officials said yesterday. The U.S. secretaries of state and defense raised the possibility that Gaddafi’s government could splinter and said a London conference tomorrow would discuss political strategies to end his 41-year rule.