In a radio message, Muamer Gaddafi hailed the resistance put up in Bani Walid, where the NTC said 11 of their fighters were killed Tuesday by a hail of rockets fired by forces loyal to the former strongman.
Among those killed in the barrage was senior commander Daou al-Salhine al-Jadak, whose car was struck by a rocket as he headed towards the front late in the day, NTC chief negotiator Abdullah Kenshil told AFP. Jadak, one of the highest ranking NTC commanders in Bani Walid who hails from the town itself, told AFP two days before his death that he had been imprisoned for more than 18 years for helping organise a 1993 rebellion.
NTC field commander Captain Walid Khaimej said that the fierce resistance of Kadhafi's loyalists had stalled the advance by his fighters in the desert town, some 170 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Tripoli.
"There is always incoming missile and artillery fire. We are returning fire with heavy weapons but we are not sending in infantry. We are waiting for reinforcements to come from Tripoli and Zawiyah," said Khaimej.
"NATO is here but is not doing enough. They take out the rocket launchers firing at us, but they are immediately replaced. We need more help from NATO," he added. The Western military alliance has under a UN mandate being giving air support to a popular revolt against Gaddafi launched in February which saw the veteran strongman toppled from power after 42 years by NTC forces last month.
Gaddafi has gone into hiding since Tripoli was overrun on August 23 but he and some of his sons are still believed by the NTC to be in Libya, possibly even in Bani Walid or Sirte. The losses were almost as bad in Sirte, where NTC fighters are battling their way to the heart of the sprawling Mediterranean city, site of a Gaddafi compound and bunkers.
Fighting centered around Mahari Hotel in eastern Sirte where NTC combatants engaged loyalist troops in close quarter skirmishes, a commander said. "More than 10 of our fighters have been killed (on Tuesday) in face-to-face fighting near Mahari Hotel," said the commander, who asked not to be named as the information was sensitive.
The NTC fighters and Gadafi's diehards clashed "in street fights and shot at each other from close range with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades," he said. At a field hospital east of the city, Dr Yusuf al-Badri said the NTC casualties continued Wednesday to mount after "a very bad day" on Tuesday when eight of them were killed and almost 50 wounded. "One fighter was killed today and five wounded so far. The wounded were taken to Ras Lanuf hospital," he told AFP.
The NTC fighters had early on Tuesday captured Sirte's port, marking a key victory in the battle for control of Gaddafi's hometown. But they expected a ferocious fight for control of the compound, the nerve centre of the remaining resistance where some of Gaddafi's family are thought to be holed up.
NTC fighter Fateh Marimri, who drove out of Sirte's eastern gate in what he said was a captured Gaddafi 4X4, also reported heavy fighting around Mahari Hotel. "They are using heavy weapons but we are not, as we want to cause minimum damage to civilians," Marimri told AFP. "They are now fighting us in civilian clothes and there are African mercenaries everywhere in Sirte."
He also said Gaddafi's family members were inside Sirte, backed by a "large number of his forces", but did not give names. Thousands of fearful civilians have been fleeing Sirte, 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of Tripoli, as the new regime's forces close in from the east, south and west.
NATO said the plight of civilians is worsening by the day in Sirte and Bani Walid, with supplies running short and snipers preventing escape. The populations of the two Gaddafi strongholds are "under enormous pressure" with access to drinking water, food, electricity, medicine and fuel "severely impeded," an alliance spokesman said.
"Media, eyewitness accounts and intelligence reports reveal the worsening situation in these two towns," Colonel Roland Lavoie said in Brussels. In Gaddafi's radio message, a transcript of which was carried by a loyalist website on Tuesday, he said he was still fighting and was ready to die a martyr.
"Heroes have resisted and fallen as martyrs and we too are awaiting martyrdom," Gaddafi said. He praised the fierce resistance put up in Bani Walid, which had been a major recruiting ground for his elite army units.
"You should know that I am on the ground with you," he said. "Through your jihad, you are imitating the exploits of your ancestors."