Poor organisation is hampering the efforts of anti-Gaddafi forces to take control of the last bastions of support for the ousted Libyan leader.
Commanders are trying to stop chaotic weapons handling that has killed several of their own fighters.
Forces near Bani Walid bemoan a lack of co-ordination between different militias. One commander described an operation that went wrong.
“There are a few issues; a lack of weapons and men, who were supposed to be in the rear. At the front we were engaged in battle from early morning. We couldn’t understand why the groups at the back retreated. We moved forward and met very strong resistance,” said Commander Mahmoud Al Nafati.
Early on Thursday anti-Gaddafi forces paused in their advances on Bani Walid and Sirte to regroup and receive more supplies.
They have seized some key towns in the south, cutting off loyalists’ escape routes.
On the outskirts of Sirte hundreds of civilians have been pouring out of the coastal city, their vehicles packed with mattresses, food and water.
The humanitarian conditions the refugees leave behind are deplorable.
“The scene is one of destruction, fighting and dead families,” said one woman. “People are trying to escape, no-one is staying in their houses. Everyone wants to leave, but we were afraid to do so. I can’t believe that we managed to escape alive.”
Libya’s interim rulers say they have found a secret stock of chemical weapons after capturing one of Muammar Gaddafi’s last strongholds in the Sahara desert.
The claim has not been verified.