WASHINGTON - The Pentagon says it has four troops in Libya — only the second time since the U.S. became involved there that it has acknowledged having any military personnel on the ground.
The first time was in March when Marines rescued an Air Force pilot who had ejected over eastern Libya.
This time it is four military personnel who entered Libya over the weekend as members of a State Department team in Tripoli assessing how to reopen the U.S. Embassy, which was vandalized during the conflict.
Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday the four include two who specialize in disposing of explosives. He says the four are not there in any offensive or defensive military capacity, but strictly to help the State Department.
Meanwhile, fugitive leader Muammar Qaddafi urged his followers to fight on Monday in a brief message of defiance that carried wider resonance after twin attacks on a key oil hub and fierce resistance in a loyalist stronghold by fighters believed led by the former Libyan ruler's son.
The back-to-back strikes at the Ras Lanouf oil facility — killing at least 15 anti-Qaddafi forces — showed that blows can still be inflicted deep within territory held by the Western-backed opposition, which is struggling to break through the last Qaddafi bastions.
Opposition reinforcements, including convoys of pickup trucks mounted with machine guns, converged outside the loyalist-held town of Bani Walid for a possible intensified assault after several failed attempts to drive out pro-Qaddafi forces. One opposition commander claimed Qaddafi's son Seif al-Islam is leading loyalist forces massed in the town, about 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli.
It's unlikely that pro-Qaddafi fighters can withstand a sustained siege on the town. But it's unclear whether the showdowns in the last loyalist strongholds — including Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte — will mark a crippling end or open a new phase of an underground insurgency and hit-and-run attacks against Libya's new leadership.
"We will not be ruled after we were the masters," said the brief statement attributed to Qaddafi that was read on Syria's Al-Rai TV by its owner Mishan al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi lawmaker and Qaddafi supporter.
The message described Libya's new leaders as "traitors" who are willing to turn over the country's oil riches to foreign interests.
"We will not hand Libya to colonialism, once again, as the traitors want," said the statement, which pledged to fight against the "coup."
The firebrand words from Qaddafi contrast sharply with the staggering losses for his regime in recent weeks, including being driven from the capital Tripoli and left with only a handful of strongholds.
Qaddafi's whereabouts are unknown, but his followers claim he is still in Libya. Some of his family members have fled to neighboring Algeria and others to Niger, most recently his son al-Saadi.
In a central Tripoli square — once the site of pro-Qaddafi rallies and renamed after the revolution Martyr's Square — more than a thousand people danced and sang. Vendors sold popcorn and cotton candy, and a giant inflatable slide was set up for kids to play on.
At one end of the square, a large stage had been set up at the foot of the towering stone walls of the old town. A giant red, black-and-green banner — the colors of the former rebels' tricolor flag — was festooned across the top.
Although Qaddafi's opponents now hold sway over most of Libya — and remain backed by NATO airstrikes — there are signs that the Libyan strongman's backers can still strike back.