NATO aerial attacks do not appear to be slowing the eastern thrust of Moammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, as his troops have rebels reeling backwards yet again.  Loyalist forces reached the gates of Ajdabiya today, and that threatens to reduce the rebel forces into a pocket that will be difficult to escape:

Muammar Gaddafi’s artillery heavily bombarded Ajdabiyah and his forces forced their way inside on Sunday in their most determined assault on the strategic eastern town for at least a week.

Rebels cowered in alleyways from sustained artillery, rocket and small-arms fire and appeared to be losing control of the town, which is gateway to their stronghold of Benghazi 150 km (90 miles) up the Mediterranean coast to the north.

Ajdabiyah had been the launch point for insurgents during a week-long fight for the oil port of Brega further west and its fall would be a serious loss.

It doesn’t take a Sir Bernard Law Montgomery to read the map.  Ajdabiya is the key to Benghazi and Tobruk.  As long as rebels held the city and its environs, they could keep Gaddafi from flanking them and pushing them back to the Mediterranean.  If Ajdabiya falls, then Gaddafi’s forces can turn on Benghazi and a string of coastal cities rather easily even without heavy armor — or they could cut off Benghazi, seize Tukrah and Al Bayda, and besiege Benghazi instead, although NATO airstrikes make a static campaign difficult.

Speaking of NATO airstrikes, the rebels have become rather disenchanted with their supposed protectors of the skies.  Ever since the US and France handed off command to NATO, rebels complain, the strikes have been much less effective, as NBC reports this morning:

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How badly is it going? Gaddafi felt sanguine enough to make a public appearance, making sure that the media noted today’s date on the school’s whiteboard. That doesn’t make it look as though the Gaddafis are looking for an exit strategy, even if it does appear that NATO might want one.