March 22, 2011 1:12:21 AM
By Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy
TRIPOLI, March 22 (Reuters) - Anti-aircraft fire rang out across Tripoli for a third night on Monday, but air attacks on Libya are likely to slow, a U.S. general said, as Washington holds back from being sucked into the Libyan civil war.
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State television said several sites had come under attack in the capital. Western powers had no confirmation of fresh strikes in a U.N.-mandated campaign to target air defences, enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
Rebels, who had been driven back towards their eastern Benghazi stronghold before the air attacks halted an advance by Gaddafi's forces, have so far done little to capitalise on the campaign -- raising fears the war could grind to a stalemate.
But Washington, wary of being drawn into another war after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out specific action to overthrow Gaddafi, though France said on Monday it hoped the Libyan government would collapse from within.
"My sense is that -- that unless something unusual or unexpected happens, we may see a decline in the frequency of attacks," General Carter Ham, who is leading U.S. forces in the Libyan operation, told reporters in Washington.
President Barack Obama, facing questions at home about the United States military getting bogged down in a third Muslim country, said Washington would cede control of the Libyan operation in days.
"We anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks," Obama told a news conference during a visit to Chile.
He did not spell out which nation or organisation would take charge, but Britain and France took a lead role in pushing for the intervention in Libya. The missile strikes have already been extensive enough to have destroyed much of Libya's air defences.
Libyan state television reported that several sites in Tripoli had been subject to new attacks by what it called the "crusader enemy". "These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people," said a state television broadcast.
Anti-aircraft gunfire rang out throughout the night and pro-Gaddafi slogans echoed around the city centre. Cars sped through Tripoli streets honking wildly.
Al Jazeera television said radar installations at two air defence bases in eastern Libya had been hit. However, a French armed forces spokesman said France, which has been involved in strikes in the east, had no planes in the air at the time.
Meanwhile, residents in two besieged rebel-held cities in western Libya, Misrata and Zintan, said they had been attacked by Gaddafi's forces. Security analysts have said they believe government troops will try to force their way into civilian areas to escape attack from the air.
In Misrata, residents said people had gone out into the streets to try to stop Gaddafi's forces entering the city.
"When they gathered in the centre, the Gaddafi forces started shooting at them with artillery and guns," said the resident, who gave his name as Saadoun. He said nine people were killed.
Zintan, near the Tunisian border, faced heavy shelling, two witnesses said, forcing residents to flee to mountain caves. Several houses were destroyed and a mosque minaret destroyed.
"New forces were sent today to besiege the city. There are now at least 40 tanks at the foothills of the mountains near Zintan," Abdulrahmane Daw told Reuters by phone from the town.
The reports could not be independently verified.
The United States and its allies have run into some criticism for the intensity of the firepower it unleashed on Libya, including more than 110 Tomahawk missiles on Saturday.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who backed the U.N. resolution supporting military intervention, has questioned the methods used, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the air campaign to "medieval crusades".
Libyan rebels have welcomed the air strikes and say they are coordinating with the Western powers launching air strikes.
But there was little sign at the vanguard of battle in east Libya that this communication extended to forward rebel units.
Western powers say they are not providing close air support to rebels or seeking to destroy Gaddafi's army, but rather only protecting civilians, as their U.N. mandate allows, leaving disorganised rebel fighters struggling to make headway.
"If we don't get more help from the West, Gaddafi's forces will eat us alive," rebel fighter Nouh Musmari told Reuters.
Security analysts say it is unclear what will happen if the Libyan leader digs in, especially since Western powers have made clear they would be unwilling to see Libya partitioned between a rebel-held east and Gaddafi-controlled west.
"There is still a real risk of a protracted stalemate, with neither side wanting to negotiate. So the endgame remains very unclear," said Jeremy Binnie, a senior analyst with IHS Jane's.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the operation would not drag into another Iraq-style conflict.
"This is different to Iraq. This is not going into a country, knocking over its government and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently," Cameron said during a parliamentary debate on Libya.
"This is about protecting people and giving the Libyan people a chance to shape their own destiny," he said.
In an appearance on Libyan television on Sunday, Gaddafi promised his enemies a "long war".
GADDAFI NOT TARGETED, WEST SAYS
Officials in Tripoli said that one missile on Sunday, which they said was intended to kill Gaddafi, had destroyed a building in his compound, heavily bombed in 1986 by the United States.
"It was a barbaric bombing," said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, showing pieces of shrapnel that he said came from the missile. "This contradicts American and Western (statements) ... that it is not their target to attack this place."
A Libyan government spokesman also said that foreign attacks had killed many people by bombing ports and Sirte airport.
"You saw that place (Sirte airport)," Mussa Ibrahim told a news conference. "It's a civilian airport. It was bombarded and many people were killed. Harbours were also bombarded."
Cameron said there were no plans to target Gaddafi. "The U.N. resolution is limited in its scope, it explicitly does not provide legal authority for action to bring about Gaddafi's removal from power by military means," he told parliament.
"We will help fulfil the U.N. Security Council (resolution), it is for the Libyan people to determine their government and their destiny, but our view is clear, there is no decent future for Libya with Colonel Gaddafi remaining in power."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he hoped Libyans themselves would topple Gaddafi: "When will the regime collapse? It is quite possible that, given the weakness of the regime, it will break up from within." (Reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Angus MacSwan in Benghazi, Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy in Tripoli, Hamid Ould Ahmed and Christian Lowe in Algiers; Tom Perry in Cairo, John Irish in Paris, Missy Ryan in Washington, Matt Spetalnick in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Myra MacDonald; Editing by Alison Williams)
Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.
04/01/2011 10:39 PM EDT
Deaths In Misrata
|@ 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|
04/01/2011 6:40 PM EDT
Wife Of Former Foreign Minister Who Defected Reportedly Seized
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.
04/01/2011 6:36 PM EDT
U.S. Military Combat Missions To End
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.|
04/01/2011 5:51 PM EDT
Fact Check: Senate Did Approve No Fly Zone
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.
04/01/2011 3:48 PM EDT
Government Rejects Rebels' Ceasefire
|@ 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.
04/01/2011 3:02 PM EDT
'Don't Arm The Rebels, Train Them'
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.
04/01/2011 2:59 PM EDT
Gunfire In Gaddafi's Compound
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.
04/01/2011 12:02 PM EDT
Journalist Describes His Ordeal In Libya
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.
04/01/2011 11:37 AM EDT
Rebels Make Oil Deal With Qatar
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.
04/01/2011 9:56 AM EDT
Gaddafi Forces Attack Homes In Misrata
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.