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Qaddafi opponents have a stronghold in the west

QAWALISH, Libya - The American and NATO assault on Muammar Qaddafi is now in its 17th week. Rebel forces supported by the U.S. haven't succeeded in assaulting Qaddafi's capital, Tripoli.

We wanted to know more about the rebels and how they're fairing-- so we asked CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips to check in on the fighting in the mountains where Qaddafi's opponents have a stronghold.

The fight was late coming here, to a remote and desolate place where the people are as rugged and unyielding as the landscape.

But this has become the war's newest and most dynamic front, where the rebels have pushed closest toward Qaddafi's seat of power in Tripoli.

WATCH: Rebels press on towards Tripoli

But it's also where those manning the forward positions say Qaddafi is fighting back by shooting missiles.

We were able to pull back quickly as the old Soviet-style and highly inaccurate Grad missiles begin to drop.

But the rebels held to their positions under the daily barrage. This is important ground they've taken.

The little village of Qawalish is the furthest point of the rebel advance so far. The rebel positions appear to be in buildings just along the ridge seen in the distance. It's being targeted by Grad missiles fired by Qaddafi forces from Tripoli - maybe sixty miles away.

From Wazin on the Tunisian border the rebels have pushed Qaddafi's forces out of a string of mountain towns and now hold a 100-mile-long slice of territory on the high ground.

When will the rebels move toward Tripoli? "Tomorrow, with God's help," one rebel said.

Whoever is helping, it is NATO's air power that has made the advance possible - even if the system is rough.

Rebel Ahmed Shebani, who has come from Vancouver, says precision NATO airstrikes are lacking. Shebani says he's been sending emails requesting NATO air strikes, probably via the loose rebel command structure in Benghazi.

Shebani says the Qaddafi forces are moving small numbers. "It gets difficult to seek and destroy when they're moving in twos, hiding under trees camouflage."

It's much too soon to talk of a sense of victory here. But tere is at least a growing sense of progress, in a Libyan kind of way.

At 21-years-old, Mohammed has been training for one month. He says he's "ready, anytime" to fight.

And anytime is coming.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.