BU MARIEM, Libya -- An American fighter jet crashed in Libya's rebel held east, both crew ejecting safely as the aircraft spun from the sky during the third night of the U.S. and European air campaign. Moammar Gadhafi's forces shelled rebels regrouping in the dunes outside a key eastern city on Tuesday, and his snipers and tanks roamed the last major opposition-held city in the west.
The crash was the first major loss for the U.S. and European military air campaign, which over three nights appears to have hobbled Gadhafi's air defenses and artillery and rescued the rebels from impending defeat. But the opposition force, with more enthusiasm than discipline, has struggled to exploit the gains. The international alliance, too, has shown fractures as officials struggle to articulate an endgame.
China and Russia, which abstained from the U.N. Security Council vote authorizing the international intervention, called for a cease-fire Tuesday, after a night when international strikes hit Tripoli, destroying a military seaport in the capital.
The U.S. Air Force F-15E came down in field of winter wheat and thistles outside the town of Bu Mariem, about 24 miles (38 kilometers) east of the rebel capital of Benghazi.
By Tuesday afternoon, the plane's body was mostly burned to ash, with only the wings and tail fins intact. U.S. officials say both crewmembers were safe in American hands.
"I saw the plane spinning round and round as it came down," said Mahdi Amrani, who rushed to the crash site with other villagers. "It was in flames. They died away, then it burst in to flames again."
The U.S. Africa Command said both crewmembers were in American hands with minor injuries after what was believed to be a mechanical failure of the on Monday night. One was picked up by a rebel force and the other by a Marine Corps Osprey search and rescue aircraft.
Most of eastern Libya, where the plane crashed, is in rebel hands but the force has struggled to take advantage of the gains from the international air campaign.
Ajdabiya, city of 140,000 that is the gateway to the east, has been under siege for a week. Outside the city, a ragtag band of hundreds of fighters milled about on Tuesday, clutching mortars, grenades and assault rifles. Some wore khaki fatigues. One man sported a bright white studded belt.
Some men clambered up power lines in the rolling sand dunes of the desert, squinting as they tried to see Gadhafi's forces inside the city. The group periodically came under artillery attacks, some men scattering and others holding their ground.
"Gadhafi is killing civilians inside Ajdabiya," said Khaled Hamid, a rebel who said he been in Gadhafi's forces but defected to the rebels. "Today we will enter Ajdabiya, God willing."
Since the uprising began on Feb. 15, the opposition has been made up of disparate groups even as it took control of the entire east of the country. Regular army units that joined the rebellion have proven stronger and more organized, but only a few units have joined the battles while many have stayed behind as officers try to coordinate a force with often antiquated, limited equipment.
The rebels pushed into the west of the country in recent weeks, only to fall back to their eastern strongholds in the face of Gadhafi's superior firepower.
Misrata, Libya's third-largest city and the last major western redoubt for the rebels, was being bombarded by Gadhafi's forces on Tuesday, his tanks and snipers controlling the streets, according to a doctor there who said civilians were surviving on dwindling supplies of food and water, desperately in search of shelter.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals if the city falls to Gadhafi's troops, he accused international forces of failing to protect civilians as promised under the United Nations resolution authorizing military action in Libya.
"Snipers are everywhere in Misrata, shooting anyone who walks by while the world is still watching," he said. "The situation is going from bad to worse. We can do nothing but wait. Sometimes we depend on one meal per day."
Mokhtar Ali, a Libyan dissident in exile elsewhere in the Mideast, said he was in touch with his father in Misrata and described increasingly dire conditions.
"Residents live on canned food and rainwater tanks," Ali said. He said Gadhafi's brigades storm residential areas knowing that they won't be bombed there. "People live in total darkness in terms of communications and electricity."
Monday night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes had begun in Tripoli, marking the third night of bombardment. Col. Abdel-Baset Ali, operations officer in the port, said the strikes caused millions of dollars in losses, but no human casualties
Warehouses containing military equipment were hit, apparently by missiles that punched through a corrugated roof and left a crater in one building. Four trucks loaded with rocket launchers were destroyed, as was other transportation and equipment.
But while the airstrikes can stop Gadhafi's troops from attacking rebel cities - in line with the U.N. mandate to protect civilians - the United States, at least, appeared deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others said the U.S. military's role will lessen in coming days as other countries take on more missions and the need declines for large-scale offensive action like the barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired mainly by U.S. ships and submarines off Libya's coast.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified data, said Monday that the attacks thus far had reduced Libya's air defense capabilities by more than 50 percent. That has enabled the coalition to focus more on extending the no-fly zone, which is now mainly over the coastal waters off Libya and around the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east, across the country to the Tripoli area this week.
In his first public comments on the crisis, Army Gen. Carter Ham, the lead U.S. commander, said it was possible that Gadhafi might retain power.
"I don't think anyone would say that is ideal," the general said Monday, foreseeing a possible outcome that stands in contrast to President Barack Obama's declaration that Gadhafi must go.
The Libyan leader has ruled the North African nation for more than four decades and was a target of American air attacks in 1986.
|@ BreakingNews : Anti-Gadhafi fighters in Misurata say 28 people had died in the city in the past three days - Al Jazeera http://bit.ly/ecR130|
Gaddafi forces have reportedly captured the wife of Moussa Koussa, the former Foreign Minister who defected while in England. Reports the Telegraph:
The wife of the Libyan foreign minister who defected to Britain earlier this week has been seized by Colonel Gaddafi and is being interrogated by his "internal security" officials, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
She is thought to have been captured amid eyewitness reports of a fierce gunfight at Col Gaddafi's central Tripoli compound as the regime stepped in to stop further defections.
Yesterday, local residents recalled how the most fierce firefight yet seen in central Tripoli had erupted within hours of the regime confirming that the Foreign Minister had defected.
Read the entire report here.
NBC's Ann Curry tweets that the U.S. will move to support missions only:
|@ AnnCurry : NBCNews: US military will stop flying COMBAT missions over Libya, only SUPPORT missions incl reconnaissance, starting April 2.|
Channel Four correspondent Jonathan Rugman spoke with Libya's former Prime Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who said that Gaddafi is trying to set up talks to stop the killing. During the interview, Obeidi told Rugman, "We are trying to talk to the British, the French and the Americans to stop the killing of people. We are trying to find a mutual solution."
Watch a report from Channel Four on the Libya talks below:
Despite complaints to the contrary, the U.S. Senate actually did support a no-fly zone over Libya. The AP reports:
Some lawmakers are grousing loudly that President Barack Obama sent the nation's military to Libya without Congress' blessing. They're ignoring a key fact: The Senate a month ago voted to support imposing a no-fly zone to protect civilians from attacks by Col. Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
With no objections, the Senate on March 1 backed a resolution strongly condemning "the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya" and urging the U.N. Security Council to take action, "including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory."
There was no recorded vote. It was simply approved by unanimous consent.
|@ Reuters : FLASH: Libyan government rejects rebels' conditions for ceasefire, says troops will not leave Libyan cities|
"They are asking us to withdraw from our own cities. .... If this is not mad then I don't know what this is. We will not leave out cities," said Mussa Ibrahim, the government spokesman.
Robert Haddick, writing at Foreign Policy, argues that the rebels need combat skills much more than they need heavy artillery. He writes:
On March 30, it was reported that CIA officers were in Libya with the rebels, making an assessment of their situation and possibly directing airstrikes in support of their fighters. We can gather from open sources much of what these intelligence officers are likely to report. As a military force, Libya's rebels are a disorganized rabble and seem incapable of preparing and holding defensive positions or maneuvering effectively against rudimentary enemy resistance. The rebels need boot camp, fundamental infantry training, and the development of some battlefield leaders, not a new stockpile of weapons.
Those Western leaders whose plan currently consists of hoping that Qaddafi will be spontaneously overthrown need to think again. Absent a Western invasion of the country, the rebel force is the only means of removing Qaddafi, and the rebels will need many months or even years of training before they are capable of defeating loyalist ground units and marching all the way to Tripoli.
Read the entire piece here.
Gunfire has been reported in Gaddafi's compound. Reuters reports:
Sustained gunfire rang out near Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's heavily fortified compound in Tripoli on Friday and residents said they saw snipers on rooftops and pools of blood on the streets.
It was not clear what triggered long bursts of machinegun and automatic gunfire that echoed around the city center for about 20 minutes and stopped before dawn.
Cars were heard speeding along central Tripoli streets, their tires screeching on the asphalt. Distant shouting or chanting also was heard.
A journalist who was picked up by Libyan security details his ordeal. Here's an excerpt of his story from Reuters:
We sat quietly. I turned to Chris, a London-based Canadian I had worked with in Iraq. I said I thought they would kill us.
A soldier opened the lock and the rear door swung open again. We looked down at the back of a station wagon which had been opened up to reveal some blankets. I thought they would perhaps drive us away. Maybe they were going to free us?
But a closer look showed feet poking under the blankets.
Soldiers then pulled aside the coverings and hauled three handcuffed young men up and in beside us. When we were locked in again, they told us they were Libyan university students.
Later, several soldiers came in. "Who are you?" one asked me. We are Reuters journalists, I said. He is our driver. We have permission. We were invited here by your government.
The soldier shook his head. "Bad time to be a journalist in Libya." Reporters were part of a foreign conspiracy against Libya, he said. But then he made it clear that if they decided we were not journalists but spies, that would be worse.
"If you tell us the truth, it should be fine, God willing. But if we catch you lying, oh we will show no mercy. None."
Read the rest here.
Libyan rebels have made a deal to sell oil to Qatar. Reports the AP:
A plan to sell rebel-held oil to buy weapons and other supplies has been reached with Qatar, a rebel official said Friday, in another sign of deepening aid for Libya's opposition by the wealthy Gulf state after sending warplanes to help confront Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
It was not immediately clear when the possible oil sales could begin or how the arms would reach the rebel factions, but any potential revenue stream would be a significant lifeline for the militias and military defectors battling Gadhafi's superior forces.
Gaddafi forces are attacking home in Misrata, according to rebels. Reuters reports:
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are mounting an intense artillery bombardment of rebel-held Misrata and pro-Gaddafi troops are attacking shops and homes in the city center, a rebel spokesman said.
Misrata is the last big rebel stronghold in western Libya but after weeks of shelling and encirclement, government forces appear to be gradually loosening the rebels' hold on the city, despite Western air strikes on pro-Gaddafi targets there.
The Associated Press reports:
Libya's rebels will agree to a cease-fire if Moammar Gadhafi pulls his military forces out of cities and allows peaceful protests against his regime, an opposition leader said Friday.
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the opposition's interim governing council based in Benghazi, said the rebels' condition for a cease-fire is "that the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose and the world will see that they will choose freedom."
Read more here.
Libyan rebels moved towards the key oil town of Brega on Friday, as conditions drifted towards a stalemate. Reuters reports:
Libyan rebels moved heavier weaponry toward the oil town of Brega on Friday and sought to marshal rag-tag units into a more disciplined force to regain momentum against Muammar Gaddafi's regular army.
While military action appeared to drift toward stalemate, coalition diplomatic efforts focused on breaking Gaddafi's hold on power in Tripoli. London urged Gaddafi loyalists to abandon him, following the defection of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa.
Rebels said neither side could claim control of Brega, one of a string of oil towns along the Mediterranean coast that have been taken and retaken several times by each side in recent weeks. The insurgents have failed to hold gains, even when helped by Western air strikes.
From Al Jazeera:
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle says Libya's crisis cannot be resolved through military means and all sides must get to work on a political resolution.
Westerwelle said on a visit to China that a first step must be a cease-fire that is heeded by Gaddafi.
BBC News reports that U.S. senators are drafting legislation that would authorize the use of force in Libya. The senators include John Kerry and John McCain.
The 1973 War Powers Act says US armed forces must start to withdraw after 60 days unless explicitly authorised to fight by Congress. In the case of Libya, that mark would fall on 20 May, Mr Kerry said.
The National Journal reports that the U.S. may be on a slippery slope when it comes to the Libyan mission:
It’s an old question, but we’ve been through enough of these interventions now --from Vietnam to Kosovo to Afghanistan--to insist on asking it once again: Is the United States on a slippery slope in Libya, one that will lead to American military involvement on the ground? The evidence, on balance, is that under President Obama the U.S. presence is going to expand quickly—but covertly.
Read the full article here.
Reuters reports that Libya's top oil official, Shokri Ghanem, has denied rumors that he left the country.
Al Jazeera television listed Ghanem as one the figures who had left Libya, but Ghanem said in a phone call, "This is not true, I am in my office and I will be on TV in a few minutes."
BBC News reports that London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative, offers his concerns about involvement in Libya:
"I am worried that what we may be doing inadvertently is entrenching support for the mad colonel... I do worry that if we get into a stalemate, if the rebels don't seem to be making the progress we hope they would make, then we should be brave enough to say to ourselves our policy isn't working."
The New York Times reports that as a second top Libyan official, Ali Abdussalam el-Treki, defects from the Gaddafi government, fears mount within the regime.
The capital of Tripoli was alive with rumored defections on Thursday, with the prime minister and the speaker of Parliament, among other top figures, said at various times to be quitting the country. None of those reports could be verified. But the authorities were taking no chances, assigning guards to senior officials to assure they cannot leave, a former Libyan official said.
BBC News reports that, according to U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, international air strikes have been hampered by bad weather over the past few days.
According to AFP, Mullen says that they have not been able to see through the weather to identify targets. "And that has more than anything else reduced the impact... reduced the effectiveness, and has allowed the regime forces to move back to the east."
Al Jazeera reporter Anita McNaught discusses the defections in Libya:
"We got word from sources outside of Tripoli that there were at least four senior figures from the Gadaffi administration who were perhaps in Tunisia, or certainly outside the country and not intending to go home. These were, last night as we understood it, the current head of the Intelligence Service, the Oil Minister (and I'll mark a question mark with that in a minute), the Secretary of the General People's Congress, and the Deputy Foreign Minister."
BBC News reports on apparent threats in London by a pro-Gaddafi protestor:
Libyan state television has broadcast footage showing a pro-Gaddafi protestor in London yanking open his jacket and vowing to turn himself an "explosive bomb", a video on YouTube shows. The incident is said to have occurred at the protest near the Foreign Office in Whitehall on 29 March. In the clip, which has been circulated widely on social media, the man refers to anti-Gaddafi protestors as "traitors and rats", and exhorts Libyans to "return to the Koran."
The Guardian reports that Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide to Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, has traveled to London for confidential talks with British officials.
It is suggested that the regime may be looking for an exit strategy. There is speculation that Gaddafi's sons, namely Saif al-Islam, Saadi and Mutassim, are looking for a way out.
Although he has little public profile in either Libya or internationally, Ismail is recognised by diplomats as being a key fixer and representative for Saif al-Islam.
According to cables published by WikiLeaks, Ismail has represented the Libyan government in arms purchase negotiations and acted as an interlocutor on military and political issues.
"The message that was delivered to him is that Gaddafi has to go and that there will be accountability for crimes committed at the international criminal court," a Foreign Office spokesman told the Guardian , declining to elaborate on what else may have been discussed.
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan continued his defense of embattled Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi during a press conference in Chicago Thursday, and slammed the United States' decision to get involved in the conflict.
The 78-year-old leader of the Chicago-based organization spoke at Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam headquarters, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"It is a terrible thing for me to hear my brother called all these ugly and filthy names when I can't recognize him as that," Farrakhan said of Gaddafi, according to the Tribune. "Even though the current tide is moving against him ... how can I refuse to raise my voice in his defense? Why would I back down from those who have given so much."
Farrakhan has publicly defended Gaddafi a number of times since the Libyan uprising began. He reportedly visited the Libyan leader in the 1980s, and told attendees of a Nation of Islam convention in February that the United States should stay out of Libya's affairs.
Full report here.
Breaking News reports on Twitter that according to the UK Independent, Britain is in talks with ten more Gaddafi officials about possible defection.
BBC News provides the account of a witness in Tripoli.
According to the witness, any anti-government dissidents who spoke out publicly were deemed by officials as mentally ill and thus detained indefinitely. Because of this, the witness is not surprised that Iman al-Obeidi was immediately described as mentally ill last week.
She is not the first case of rape we have heard of here.
I have heard of two other cases in recent weeks. One of them was of a Moroccan housekeeper who was left behind by her employers as they fled to a safe house because half their family members had been detained.
The story that circulated through word-of-mouth was that security forces stormed the house she was staying in with the intention of detaining the rest of the family. Finding her alone there instead, they raped her.
Read the full account here.
A top Libyan diplomat now supporting the opposition says most high-rank Libyan officials are trying to defect but are under tight security and having difficulty leaving the country.
Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Libya's U.N. Mission, which now totally supports the opposition, knew two days in advance that Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa planned to defect.
"This is a big blow to the regime," Dabbashi said.
He said the mission had been waiting for about 10 days for Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president named by Moammar Gadhafi to be the new U.N. ambassador, to defect. Treki announced his defection Thursday in Cairo.
Libya's Transitional National Council has released a statement on counter-terrorism. The council says that it condemns and will combat all forms of terrorism.
Regarding al-Qaeda, the council states:
It emphasizes also its full commitment to the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions on Counter-Terrorism, including the resolutions on the Sanctions concerning al-Qaeda and Taliban, with the full commitment to all measures and sanctions concerning any individual or entity associated with al-Qaeda and Taliban as determined by the Sanctions Committee.
The council pledges to help the United Nations and cooperate with it's counter-terrorism task forces.
Read the full statement here.
HuffPost's Saki Knafo reports:
Earlier this week, rebel forces in Libya fought their way to the outskirts of Sirte, a seafront city about the size of Tallahassee. The day before, pushing westward along the coast from Ajdabiya, they'd recaptured the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf -- Sirte, experts said, was the last major obstacle standing in the rebels' path to the capital city of Tripoli.
Sirte. Before Sunday, few outside Libya had heard of it. Now it's being portrayed as the key to Libya's hopes for democracy, the fulcrum on which the nation's fate would turn. Its importance can be explained partly by location, its proximity to the capital. But it mattered for other reasons, too, reasons that reveal a lot about a conflict with complexities outsiders are only beginning to grasp.
Read the full story here.
According to The New York Times, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague denies that Moussa Koussa was offered any immunity to lure him to leave Gaddafi's regime. Hague reports that he is voluntarily speaking with British officials.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said on March 3 that he would investigate “alleged crimes against humanity committed in Libya since 15 February, as peaceful demonstrators were attacked by security forces.” He placed Mr. Koussa second after Colonel Qaddafi on a list of “some individuals with formal or de facto authority, who commanded and had control over the forces that allegedly committed the crimes.”