Tag Archive: Moammar Gadhafi


AP IMPACT: How rebels held Misrata

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110504/ap_on_bi_ge/ml_libya_battle_for_misrata

By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Ben Hubbard, Associated Press Wed May 4, 5:40 am ET

MISRATA, Libya – Tripoli Street is a bullet-scarred wasteland — littered with charred cars and tanks, its cafes and offices shattered. Yet for Misrata’s civilians-turned-fighters, the boulevard is a prized trophy, paid for in blood, won with grit and guile.

It took five weeks of fierce street battles — on rooftops, in alleyways — for Misrata’s inexperienced rebels to wrest control of their city’s commercial heart from forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Up against armored units and professional sniper squads, they turned bottles, tires and trailer trucks into tools of war.

When they finally succeeded in pushing government forces out of Libya’s third-largest city in late April, it was the greatest head-to-head military victory yet in the uprising that threatens Gadhafi’s 42-year hold on power. The opposition controls much of eastern Libya, but Misrata is the only city in the west rebels have managed to hold.

“Our fighters weren’t fighting from experience,” said the local military spokesman, Ibrahim Beatelmal, noting that most had never touched a gun before joining the fight. “They had to make it all up as they went along.”

The city remains surrounded, accessible only through its port and subjected to daily bombardments. After two months of siege, cemeteries accommodate rows of new graves and hospitals have transformed into battlefield clinics; doctors estimate that the siege’s death toll has passed 1,000.

Yet amid the carnage, residents have organized to stave off hunger, allocate fuel and protect the city. They’ve erected sand berms along streets to absorb blasts, hacked down palm trees to delineate ambulance fast lanes, formed an array of administrative committees — all with a community spirit that revealed itself in many ways during an Associated Press reporter’s weeklong stay.

Misrata is a merchant city, with a large professional class whose expertise has paid off in distinctive ways. Dermatologists treat blast victims. University students master street-fighting tactics.

“All of a sudden I became responsible for macaroni and onions,” said Majdi Shibani, a telecommunications professor put in charge of food distribution — a daunting task in a sprawling city where all phone lines have been cut. His team oversees distribution of 400 tons of food per week from a room in the back of a hookah lounge, where customers smoke water pipes.

Donations of food have streamed in on boats from the Libyan diaspora, foreign countries and international organizations. There’s little coordination, resulting in huge surpluses of, say, canned corn — which Shibani said Libyans hate.

The stalemate in Misrata mirrors the situation nationwide. Soon after the uprising against Gadhafi broke out on Feb. 15, the opposition took over Benghazi and other eastern towns, but its patchwork forces proved unable to make further gains even after U.S. and NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi’s troops began in late March.

Meanwhile, government forces surrounded Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital Tripoli, cutting it off and attacking from three sides. Unlike fighters in eastern Libya, who retreat across stretches of desert when attacked, Misrata’s rebels can’t run; their backs are to the Mediterranean Sea.

After several failed attacks on Misrata, government commanders sent a column of tanks blasting its way down Tripoli Street on March 16. Residents fled, and regime sniper teams moved in, building nests on a dozen of the city’s tallest buildings, notably a nine-story insurance building. Gunfire from the rooftops killed and wounded scores of civilians.

The city’s youth organized resistance. Led by a handful of retired army officers, they formed brigades of dozens of fighters, each assigned to a side street, said Samir al-Hadi, a grocer who led a group at Tripoli Street’s southern end.

Local youths used their intimate knowledge of the area to dodge sniper fire, serving as scouts, gunmen, messengers and supply runners. Over walkie-talkies, group leaders let others know when tanks or supply trucks arrived so they could attack them with Molotov cocktails or rocket-propelled grenades.

They first fought with only light arms. With each ambush, they captured more — mostly anti-aircraft and heavy artillery guns — which they welded to the backs of pickup trucks.

The Gadhafi regime imported the pickups — cheap Chinese imitations of name-brand trucks — in 2007, but they sat unwanted in a lot until the war. Now, the rebels have registered about 2,000, even issuing photo IDs to their drivers to prevent theft.

The fleet is essential to the rebel cause, ferrying fighters to battle, aid to families, and casualties to hospitals. Although the trucks often break down, the rebels call them a blessing.

“The bad cars Gadhafi brought us we now use to fight him,” said Hisham Bansasi, who helps coordinate the fleet. “You can call it a joke of destiny.”

Bigger trucks were used when the rebels — unable to blast the snipers from their positions — decided instead to cut their supply lines. While rooftop gunmen provided cover, rebels drove trucks full of sand onto Tripoli Street, dumped their trailers and shot out their tires, forming heavy roadblocks.

“When we blocked the road, there was no way to get supplies to the snipers,” al-Hadi said.

The rebels then circled in, closing off back routes with destroyed cars and concrete sewage pipes.

Street battles raged while they besieged the snipers. Government forces peppered the area with mortars, killing many rebels. Al-Hadi guesses that about 400 died in the fighting on Tripoli Street alone, although no one has exact figures.

Among the victims were two Western photojournalists who had accompanied rebels to the street — Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images, and British-born Tim Hetherington, co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

As the snipers gradually weakened, rebel fighters went building by building, clearing them any way they could.

Near the battle’s end, a team of snipers held out in a multistory furniture store called “Make Yourself at Home,” al-Hadi said. Rebels fired on the building with anti-aircraft guns, forcing the snipers into the basement.

Gunmen then stormed the building and rolled burning tires down the stairs. Days later, its stairwell was charred black, and the smell of burnt rubber and dead bodies fouled the air.

The battle turned in late April, al-Hadi said, as government troops ran low on supplies and fled from the high-rises to nearby homes. The rebels raised their flag on the insurance building on April 21.

Rebel fighter Mustafa Zredi, 18, said he watched one of the last sniper groups seize a house on April 26 and punch holes for their rifles in the stairway walls.

“We knew we could easily put gas in a bottle and throw it over the wall to burn them out,” Zredi said.

Before doing so, the fighters asked permission from the owner, 66-year-old Mohammed Labbiz. With regret, he said OK.

“That was the only way to get those dogs out,” Labbiz recalled, standing in the charred shell of his home of 30 years. “I hope that God will reimburse me.”

Two days later, curious families walked down Tripoli Street, snapping photos of their children next to burned-out tanks.

The fighting has caused massive displacement throughout Misrata. Thousands of residents now squat in schools or crowd in with family members.

The Refayda family, from a semi-rural area to the east, evacuated into the city in mid-April after a surge of sniper fire and bombardments.

Some 70 clan members now stay in an unfinished, four-room house near the ocean. They’ve divided the rooms by age and gender — women in the bedrooms, girls in the living room, boys in the garage. The oldest is 77, the youngest 4 months. About 30 of the clan’s grown men are on the battlefield but visit regularly.

Demand is high for the home’s three bathrooms; three children shower at a time.

Ali Hameida built the house in 2003 for his wife and five children, never imagining so many guests.

“If I had known, I’d have dug a basement,” he said.

It’s been impossible to keep a precise count of Misrata’s death toll; doctors’ estimates range between 1,000 and 2,000. The central hospital, Hikma, has registered more than 550 dead since mid-February, but others were brought to outlying clinics or buried straightaway.

The Libyan government has provided no information on how many soldiers it has lost, further blurring the picture.

Hikma, originally a private clinic, has been transformed by the war. A tent in the parking lot houses the triage unit. Another serves as a mosque. Wards are crowded around the clock, and doctors bed down in alcoves hidden behind sheets. Outside, families cluster to await news, erupting in tears and chants when a new death is confirmed.

Dr. Ali Mustafa Ali, like many of his colleagues, often sleeps at Hikma but returns home to his wife and children during lulls, snipping a few roses from his garden to bring back to work.

“The severity of the situation has made everyone pull together in a way I’ve never seen before,” Ali said.

A group of men emerged from the hospital carrying a wooden coffin covered in a blanket — the first of 11 “martyrs” who would reach the hospital before nightfall.

“God is great,” Ali said as the men passed. Then he entered the hospital to put the flowers on his desk.

“They’re for the people inside,” he said, “to keep their spirits up.”

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Libya rebels claim control of Tunisian border post

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110421/ap_on_bi_ge/ml_libya

By KARIN LAUB and BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Karin Laub And Ben Hubbard, Associated Press 37 mins ago

 

TRIPOLI, Libya – Libyan rebels said Thursday they had control of a post on the Tunisian border, forcing government soldiers to flee over the frontier and possibly opening a new channel for opposition forces in Moammar Gadhafi’s bastion in western Libya.

In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya, meanwhile, relief workers and medical teams awaited the arrival of a passenger ferry carrying about 1,000 people — mostly Libyan civilians and workers from Asia and Africa — out of the besieged city of Misrata, the main rebel holdout in Gadhafi’s territory.

Also aboard the vessel were the bodies of an Oscar-nominated documentary maker from Britain and an American photographer who were killed covering clashes Wednesday. A day earlier, the ferry arrived in Misrata, delivering food and medical supplies to the beleaguered population.

The reported capture of the border crossing followed three days of intense fighting outside the desert town of Nalut, about 140 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tripoli, said a rebel leader, Shaban Abu Sitta. The area was briefly in hands of anti-government forces last month before Libyan troops moved in.

Holding the Dhuheiba border crossing could open important supply routes for anti-Gadhafi forces and give the rebels another foothold in western Libya.

“Rebels are now manning Dhuheiba crossing,” said Abu Sitta, who claimed his fighters destroyed 30 army pickup trucks and captured 10 cars and some weapons.

Tunisia’s official TAP news agency said Libyan rebels had control of the post and at least 13 Libyan military officers, including two commanders, fled across the border. The report, citing a “high-level” Tunisian military official, said the Libyan officers were detained and the border post was closed.

A doctor with Tunisia’s Red Crescent, Dr. Mongi Slim, said the border post was in rebel hands and relief officials fear it could lead to a new wave of refugees.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

“The main worry now is an influx of families fleeing the fighting” in Libya, Slim told The Associated Press. “Before, when the post was under the control of the pro-Gadhafi forces, people had been crossing on little paths. But now it will be much easier.”

On the Ionian Spirit ferry — part of a maritime lifeline to Misrata — Libyan civilians and migrants workers packed the decks, hallways and every other available space. In the ship’s Panorama Bar, evacuees tossed mattresses onto the wooden dance floor. Women slipped behind a curtain to change.

The injured were brought to the lower level of the ship, where an 11-member medical team set up a makeshift intensive care unit.

Jeremy Haslam, a coordinator from the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, said the boat has more than 1,000 evacuees including 239 Libyan civilians and 586 migrants from Niger and others from Africa and Asia.

He said some Libyans tried to flee Misrata aboard a tug boat, but were turned away because the vessel was overcrowded. Some managed to get aboard the ferry.

“We are carrying more than we are supposed to but it’s better than letting these people leave on a tugboat,” said Haslam.

The number of people seeking to flee Misrata has surged as Libyan forces expand their shelling to areas once considered relatively safe havens from attacks.

“Our neighborhood became a war zone so we had to get out,” said Faiza Stayta, who made it aboard the ferry with her husband and two children. “All the firing is random. You hear a rocket and how have no idea if it will come down on your house.”

The vessel carried the bodies of Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images, and British-born Tim Hetherington, co-director of the 2010 Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” that was nominated for an Academy Award. The film was co-directed by Sebastian Junger, author of “The Perfect Storm.”

They were killed Wednesday in an attack that also injured two other photographers. A statement from Hetherington’s family said he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. The ship also held the body of a Ukrainian doctor killed Wednesday from an artillery blast, said Haslam of the IOM.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, during a visit to the Ukrainian capital Kiev, said the doctor’s wife was severely wounded by the shell.

He expressed his “deepest condolences for that couple. This is not just a couple, this is what Ukrainian people are showing to humanity to the world.”

The group is planning to send another ship to Misrata carrying 500 tons of food and medical supplies. The IOM said it has evacuated more than 3,100 people from Misrata.

___

Hubbard reported from aboard the Ionian Spirit. Associated Press writer Hadeel al-Shalchi contributed to this report from Doha, Qatar.

Libya rebels raise concern about Islamic extremism

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ml_libya_islamic_warrior

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press Tue Apr 19, 6:18 am ET

AJDABIYA, Libya – Abdel-Moneim Mokhtar was ambushed and killed by Moammar Gadhafi’s troops last week on a dusty road in eastern Libya — the end of a journey that saw him fight as a jihadi in Afghanistan and then return home where he died alongside NATO-backed rebels trying to oust the longtime authoritarian leader.

In describing Mokhtar’s death on Friday, Gadhafi’s government said he was a member of al-Qaida — part of an ongoing attempt to link the rebels to Osama bin Laden’s group. Four years ago, al-Qaida said it had allied itself with the Libyan Islamic Fighters Group — of which Mokhtar was a top military commander.

Two days before he was killed, Mokhtar denied any connection between his group and al-Qaida, telling The Associated Press in an interview: “We only fought to free Libya.”

“We realized that Gadhafi is a killer and imprisoned people, so we had to fight him,” said Mokhtar, one of a handful of rebel battalion commanders who led more than 150 rebels in eastern Libya.

The question of Islamic fundamentalists among the rebels is one of the murkier issues for Western nations who are aiding the anti-Gadhafi forces with airstrikes and must decide how deeply to get involved in the fight. Some countries, including the U.S., have been wary — partly out of concern over possible extremists among the rebels.

NATO’s top commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, told Congress last month that officials had seen “flickers” of possible al-Qaida and Hezbollah involvement with rebel forces. But he said there was no evidence of significant numbers within the opposition leadership.

Spokesman Mustafa Gheriani of the opposition council in Benghazi said any extremists among the fighters are exceptions and that ensuring democracy is the only way to combat them.

Mokhtar, 41, of the northwestern town of Sabratha, arrived in Afghanistan at age 20 in 1990 when the mujahedeen were fighting the puppet regime installed by the Soviets before they withdrew after a decade-long war.

He fought for three years in the fields and mountains of Khost and Kandahar provinces under Jalaluddin Haqqani — a prominent commander who was backed by the U.S. during the Soviet war but has now become one of its fiercest enemies in Afghanistan.

At least 500 Libyans went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, according to The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, but Mokhtar said there aren’t many fighting with the rebels now. Many like Mokhtar who returned home were arrested or killed by Gadhafi when they announced the creation of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the mid-1990s to challenge his rule.

Mokhtar became one of the LIFG’s top three military commanders, said Anes Sharif, another member of the group who has known him for almost two decades.

Mokhtar was in charge in southern Libya and planned several assassination attempts on Gadhafi, including one in 1996 when a militant threw a grenade at the ruler near the southern desert town of Brak that failed to explode, Sharif said.

“Abdel-Moneim was the man who organized, prepared and mastered all those kinds of operations,” said Sharif, who is from the northeastern town of Darna, which has been a hotbed of Islamist activity.

The LIFG also waged attacks against Gadhafi’s security forces. But the Libyan leader cracked down on the group, especially in Darna and what is now the rebel-held capital of Benghazi.

“The worst fight was against Gadhafi in the 1990s,” Mokhtar said. “If he captured us, he would not only torture us but our families as well.”

The response forced many members of the group, including Mokhtar, to flee abroad, Sharif said. Mokhtar left in the late 1990s and only returned after the current uprising began, Sharif said.

“We don’t have many experienced commanders in the battlefield. That’s why I’m out here,” said Mokhtar, his full black beard peppered with gray as he stood outside Ajdabiya surrounded by rebel pickup trucks bristling with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns.

Al-Qaida announced in 2007 that it had allied with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and the group was put on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Both Mokhtar and Sharif denied the connection, saying it was never endorsed by the group’s leadership.

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group publicly renounced violence in 2009 following about three years of negotiations with Libyan authorities — including with Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam. In a statement at the time, the group insisted it had “no link to the al-Qaida organization in the past and has none now.”

The Libyan government released more than 100 members of the LIFG in recent years as part of the negotiations. Sharif said the group changed its name to the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change before the current uprising.

British authorities believe the LIFG has stood by its pledge of nonviolence, and has no ties to al-Qaida — though acknowledge that other Libyans command senior positions in the terror group’s hierarchy, including Abu Yahia al-Libi, al-Qaida’s Afghanistan commander.

“They clearly are still committed to an Islamist world view, but don’t subscribe to terrorist tactics any more,” said Ghaffar Hussain, who works on deradicalization projects for the Quilliam Foundation, a British anti-extremism think tank.

“Some former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group figures have decided to join the rebels, mainly because they remain opposed to Gadhafi’s regime — but there is no sign of them reforming as a jihadist organization,” he said.

However, Hussain said there was clear evidence that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the al-Qaida offshoot which U.S. officials believe poses the most immediate terror threat to America — was trying to join the fighting against Gadhafi’s forces.

“The rebels are being very careful to keep a distance from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, knowing the damage that any associated with them would do to their cause,” Hussain said.

Since the uprising began in February, Gadhafi has played up fears that the rebels include fighters from al-Qaida, but no evidence has surfaced to support the accusations.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters Sunday night that Mokhtar “has been an al-Qaida member since the ’80s,” although he offered no evidence. He called him by his tribal name, al-Madhouni, and said he “fought in many countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria and Libya” and was wanted by “international authorities.”

A U.S. intelligence official said that Mokhtar has been involved in extremist activities in Afghanistan and Libya since the 1990s. He may not have been in lockstep with al-Qaida at the time of his death, but he’s been “a fellow traveler in the past,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The official concluded that it’s too early to know whether Mokhtar and other members of his group have abandoned their previous extremist tendencies.

Mokhtar said in the interview that he, Sharif and other members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group still have the same passion to oust Gadhafi, but added they no longer aspire to set up an Islamic state.

Instead, they say their goal is the same as the rebels’ National Transitional Council: a democratic government that respects human rights and the rule of law.

“We are here only to fight for freedom, and that is our only goal,” Mokhtar said.

“We want a free Libya and a government for all Libyans — a government that doesn’t distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims, that is run by a constitution and respects Islam,” he added.

Sharif, who was part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s political division and has been working with the rebels as well, said years of experience have convinced them that most Libyans don’t want to live under a strict Islamic regime. But he did believe that politicians with conservative Islamic views will attract the most support in Libya.

“The West needs to understand that there is a difference between Islamic culture and radicalization,” Sharif said.

Another area of concern for the West has been the relatively high number of Libyans who have gone to fight against U.S.-led forces in Iraq. One study done by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2008 found that Libyans represented the second largest group of foreign fighters and ranked first per capita.

Sharif said a small number of radical Islamists do exist in Libya, but he said the best way to deal with them is to get rid of Gadhafi, whose repressive policies have exacerbated extremism in the country.

“In an environment where everybody is respected and is allowed to carry out their religion without fear of being tortured, arrested or killed, there is no extremism,” said Sharif.

He also said that the rebels are committed to keeping foreign fighters out of Libya — a sentiment echoed by others on the battlefield.

“The rebels are determined not to allow al-Qaida or any other non-Libyans to have a base here,” Sharif said. “We don’t want the country to be a battlefield for other groups to finish their wars. We don’t want to see Libya as another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

___

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.

UN Calls for Cease-Fire in Libya

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/north/UN-Calls-for-Cease-Fire-in-Libya-120054294.html

The United Nations is calling for an immediate cease-fire in Libya as recent heavy fighting left more than a dozen dead in the western part of the country.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his top humanitarian envoy Valerie Amos expressed deep concern over the magnitude of the conflict as well as its toll on civilians.

Shelling and sniper fire by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi killed 17 people in the western city of Misrata Sunday, while rocket and artillery attacks on the eastern town of Ajdabiya sent rebel fighters and civilians fleeing.

In Misrata, at least 47 people also were wounded in the fighting, during which Gadhafi’s forces fired on a makeshift trauma center.

The city has been under government siege for the last seven weeks, leading to a growing humanitarian crisis.

U.N. and Libyan officials say they reached an an agreement Sunday to allow aid workers safe passage to Misrata. Ban says the world body, which is already providing aid in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, will also set up a humanitarian presence in the capital, Tripoli.

Sunday marked one month since the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing an international air campaign to protect civilians in Libya. In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain will not send occupying ground forces into the North African country.

The NATO alliance has carried out airstrikes against loyalist forces in Libya to enforce the U.N.-authorized “no fly” zone protecting civilians from attack by Gadhafi’s troops.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

Gadhafi forces shell east Libyan city of Ajdabiya

Libyan rebel fighters load a truck with ammunition on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya, Saturday, April 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110417/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Ben Hubbard, Associated Press Sun Apr 17, 8:44 am ET

AJDABIYA, Libya – Troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Sunday shelled the rebel-held city of Ajdabiya, a strategic eastern town that has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent weeks.

The government bombardment of Ajdabiya marked a setback for the rebels, who were forced to retreat a day after having advanced as far as the outskirts of the oil town of Brega, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) to the west.

On Sunday, dozens of vehicles, some of them rebel trucks with heavy machine guns mounted in the back, could be seen fleeing Ajdabiya toward the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the north.

Last month, Gadhafi’s troops encircled Ajdabiya with tanks, armored personnel carriers and heavy artillery before NATO airstrikes decimated the forces besieging the city and allowed the rebels to reclaim the town and push west.

The NATO-led air campaign has kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to completely turn the tide. The rebels have been unable to reach Gadhafi’s heavily defended hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the regime-controlled western half of the country.

Rebel advances west of Ajdabiya — through Brega and its companion oil center of Ras Lanouf, another 60 miles (100 kilometers) farther on — have ultimately foundered as rebels overextended their supply lines and were routed by the heavier firepower and more sophisticated tactics of the government forces.

But while Gadhafi’s troops have been able to halt rebel advances and push back east, they have been unable to move in on Benghazi, largely because of the threat of NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi’s exposed forces.

In Paris, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet dismissed statements from a top NATO official that the alliance is short of aircraft. Longuet said instead that NATO’s mission in Libya is hampered by a lack of ground information.

“There is no lack of planes but a lack of identification of mobile objectives,” he said in an interview published Sunday in the daily Le Parisien. “The problem is that we’re missing concrete and verifiable information on identified objectives on the ground.”

Longuet said that “coalition aviation is capable of breaking all logistical provisions of Gadhafi’s troops” to the east. But he acknowledged that in urban combat, “if the aviation avoids tragedies, it still isn’t solving the problem.”

After a meeting of NATO foreign ministers last week in Berlin, the alliance’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said NATO needed “a small number of precision aircraft” to hit Gadhafi’s forces.

“I’m hopeful that nations will step up to the plate,” he said, noting that the two-day Berlin meeting was not held to solicit new pledges of support.

The need for the additional aircraft comes as the situation has changed on the ground, Fogh Rasmussen said.

More shelling in rebel-held city in western Libyan

Libyan rebel fighters load a truck with ammunition on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya, Saturday, April 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110416/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By SEBASTIAN ABBOT, Associated Press Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press 1 hr 42 mins ago

AJDABIYA, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s forces poured rocket fire after dawn Saturday into Misrata, the only western city still in rebel hands, and weary residents who have endured more than a month of fighting angrily lashed out at NATO for failing to halt the deadly assault.

Five civilians were killed in a 30-minute barrage of shelling that heavily damaged a factory for dairy products and sent up a thick column of black smoke, a doctor said. A human rights group has accused the Gadhafi regime of using cluster bombs in Misrata — munitions that can cause indiscriminate casualties and have been banned by most countries. The Libyan government and military denied the charge.

In eastern Libya, fierce fighting left seven rebels dead, 27 wounded and four missing as the anti-Gadhafi forces sought to push toward the strategic oil town of Brega, according to Mohammed Idris, a hospital supervisor in the nearby city of Ajdabiya. The battle took place on a road halfway between Ajdabiya and Brega.

Frustration was growing among residents in Misrata, where Gadhafi’s troops have intensified their long siege of the city in recent days. The doctor sharply criticized NATO for failing to break the assault with its month-old campaign of airstrikes.

“We have not seen any protection of civilians,” the doctor said. “NATO airstrikes are not enough, and the proof is that there are civilians killed every day here,” he said.

The theme was echoed in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, where spokesman Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga told a news conference: “There’s no more room for hesitation or for not standing with determination against what is happening in Misrata and other Libyan cities, because the destruction that Moammar Gadhafi is causing in Libyan cities is great and extensive.”

Rebel fighters in eastern Libya were less critical of NATO. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said this week that without the airstrikes, even Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the rebels’ main stronghold, would be in “complete danger.”

The Misrata doctor said Gadhafi’s forces are taking shelter in residential areas that civilians had fled, apparently confident that NATO won’t risk attacking them there.

But the troops have so far been unable to fully occupy the city of 300,000 people, he said, so instead they are targeting sites such as the dairy plant or the port to prevent the arrival of humanitarian aid.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared government retribution, said a civilian who was brought to him had been nearly torn in half by a mortar shell and was not expected to live.

NATO officials have said it is difficult to strike Gadhafi’s forces when in an urban area. NATO did say its strikes on Friday destroyed two tanks in the Misrata area.

At a news conference Saturday night in Tripoli, Maj. Gen. Saleh Abdullah Ibrahim denied that the Libyan military is using heavy weapons in Misrata.

When asked whether the NATO airstrikes have had an impact on the Libyan forces, he said he did not know.

“I am a member of the regular armed forces. This type of information is only in the higher ranks of the armed forces,” he said.

Ibrahim confirmed that prisoners had been taken, but would not say how many.

Rebels in Misrata and the New York-based group Human Rights Watch have alleged that Gadhafi’s forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. Most of the world’s nations have banned the use of the munitions.

Human Rights Watch said its researchers inspected remnants of the weapons found in a Misrata neighborhood and interviewed witnesses.

Ibrahim said the accusations were “unfounded,” adding that Libya did not have “these kinds of weapons in our depot, and no single Libyan has been trained on this.”

“We are calling for those who show these kinds of weapons to give us the material evidence,” he said.

A boat chartered by Doctors Without Borders and carrying 95 Libyans from Misrata — 65 of them injured — arrived Saturday at the Tunisian port of Zarzis, according to the official TAP news agency. Nine people who were critically or seriously injured were taken to a hospital in the town of Sfax.

A lack of medicine, food and water for the 6,000-10,000 people in migrant workers’ camps around Misrata has led to a “catastrophic” situation that is deteriorating daily, said Dr. Helmi Makkaoui, a Tunisian coordinator for the humanitarian aid group.

Rebels in eastern Libya held their positions for four days around the city of Ajdabiya, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the east, allowing NATO airstrikes to weaken government forces, said Col. Hamid Hassy.

On Friday, the fighters pushed in to reach Brega’s university campus, just outside the town’s oil port, Hassy said. He added that if the rebels retake Brega, they will bring in engineers to repair any damage to the refinery and oil facilities there.

Brega has already changed hands half a dozen times since fighting began in early March. Explosions that appeared to be from new airstrikes could still be heard Saturday in the area.

Despite the strikes, the rebels ran into staunch resistance Saturday. Three of the seven rebels killed were in a car that was struck by either a rocket or artillery shell near a gas station on the road about 24 miles (40 kilometers) from either city, said fighter Ahmed Bakir.

Ambulances streamed to an Ajdabiya hospital, where doctors treated fighters with severe burns or shrapnel wounds. Bloodstained bandages littered the area outside the hospital and workers hosed down a bloody stretcher.

The latest fighting in Brega pushed the rebels back to the town’s outskirts, said Suleiman Mohammed Suleiman, one of the opposition fighters who was shot in the leg while firing a heavy machine gun from the back of a pickup truck outside Brega.

Suleiman said the rebels could see Brega but were not yet inside.

The NATO-led air campaign has kept rebels from being defeated on the battlefield by the better trained and equipped government forces, but it still has not been enough to completely turn the tide. The rebels have been unable to reach Gadhafi’s heavily defended hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the regime-controlled western half of the country.

Previous rebel advances through Brega and its companion oil center of Ras Lanouf, another 60 miles (100 kilometers) farther on, have ultimately foundered as rebels overextended their supply lines and were routed by the heavier firepower and more sophisticated tactics of the government forces.

In contrast those previous charges and retreats in the past six weeks, the rebels appear to be trying a more gradual advance that might actually result in them holding territory.

At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, the United States and its allies put up a united front on the goals of the alliance’s stalemated military mission in Libya, yet failed to resolve behind-the-scenes squabbling over how to achieve them.

NATO members agreed on paper that Gadhafi had to go to end the crisis, they also made clear that they would not be the ones to oust him.

___

Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Tripoli, Libya; Ben Hubbard in Benghazi, Libya; and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report from Cairo.

Gadhafi forces attack rebel city in western Libya

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110415/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By KARIN LAUB and BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Karin Laub And Ben Hubbard, Associated Press 2 hrs 15 mins ago

TRIPOLI, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi’s troops launched a powerful assault with tanks and rockets Friday on Misrata, the last major rebel city in western Libya, sending residents fleeing to increasingly crowded safe areas of the city that are still out of the Libyan leader’s reach, witnesses said.

Misrata has become emblematic of the limits of NATO’s air campaign, with the alliance’s top military commander saying he needs more precision attack aircraft to avoid civilian casualties in urban combat. President Barack Obama acknowledged in an interview that the two-month-old civil war has reached a stalemate.

After a weeklong flurry of high-level diplomatic meetings in Europe and the Middle East, rebel leaders complained that the international community is not doing enough to keep Gadhafi’s troops at bay. In the capital of Tripoli, a government official denied Libyan troops are shelling Misrata and said they are only taking defensive actions.

Friday’s fighting in Misrata — even as a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin debated handling of the Libya air campaign — highlight rebel worries that international intervention won’t come fast enough or will be ineffective.

“Time is critical, especially for the people in the west part of the country, especially in Misrata,” said Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebels who seized much of eastern Libya from Gadhafi at the start of the war. “Is there something else on the diplomatic ground that they know that we don’t to put more pressure on Gadhafi? The guy is still shelling and killing and it makes no difference to him.”

Rights groups have warned that the situation in Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, is dire after 50 days of siege by Gadhafi’s troops. Hospitals are unable to cope with growing numbers of casualties, including many shrapnel injuries.

Rebels in Misrata alleged that Gadhafi’s forces have been using cluster bombs, which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. New York-based Human Rights Watch reported Friday that such munitions were used, saying its researchers inspected remnants and interviewed witnesses.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied the use of cluster bombs. “Absolutely not,” he said when asked about the allegations. “We can never do this. We challenge them to prove it.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was unaware of the reports about the use of cluster bombs.

“I have to say I am not surprised at anything that Col. Gadhafi and his forces do, but that is worrying information and it is one of the reasons why the fight in Misrata is so difficult,” Clinton said. “It is at close quarters, it is in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.”

An international aid group evacuated nearly 1,200 migrant workers from Misrata by boat Friday, saying nearly all were weak, were suffering from dehydration and needed medical attention.

The migrants are among 8,300 foreign laborers stranded near Misrata’s port without shelter or adequate food and water, and the boat will quickly make a second run to rescue more, said the International Organization for Migration.

Germay Haslan, an IOM coordinator, said he heard the sound of shelling and mortar fire while the ship was in port.

In Friday’s assault, a helicopter circled over Misrata for several hours, apparently spotting targets for artillery. Pro-Gadhafi forces bombarded the city with fire from tanks, artillery and rockets, a resident said.

“We’ve been hearing explosions all day,” said the resident, who spoke on condition he be identified only by his given name, Abdel-Salam, for fear of retaliation. Abdel-Salam said the shelling continued until nightfall, portraying the assault as the heaviest since the start of the siege.

Gadhafi’s men are in control of the city center, while the rebels are clinging to positions in the port area. Al-Jazeera satellite TV showed video of two armored vehicles parked in a debris-filled street of Misrata.

Gadhafi loyalists have been firing randomly from their positions in the city, forcing people to leave their homes, said a city resident. Once a building is empty, it is being taken over by government troops, said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. He said government troops have also targeted groups of civilians in the streets, including people standing in line outside a bakery.

He said rebel-held neighborhoods are becoming increasingly crowded. “Now you can find houses with more than 10 families in one house,” he said.

Taki Ali, a 43-year-old Iraqi engineer, had moved three times in Misrata because of the shelling. Ali, his wife and two toddler sons had stayed with a Libyan family near the port for two weeks, before being evacuated by boat Friday.

Eight bodies of civilians were taken to a hospital, Abdel-Salam said, adding that he believes there are additional casualties among the fighters.

“Where is NATO?” asked Abdel-Salam. “Their top mission is to protect civilians, and Misrata is the No. 1 city in Libya that needs protection for the civilians.”

The alliance is struggling to overcome differences, with Britain and France seeking more strikes by other NATO nations, particularly the U.S. Washington says it sees no need to change what it calls a supporting role in the campaign and many other NATO nations have rules preventing them from striking Gadhafi’s forces except in self-defense.

Beyond the political constraints, NATO needs more precision attack aircraft to avoid civilian casualties as Gadhafi’s forces camouflage themselves and hide in populated areas to avoid Western airstrikes, said NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis.

The commander is looking for about eight to 10 additional planes, said U.S. officials on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details.

The international community stepped into the Libyan conflict a month ago, with NATO unleashing airstrikes on Gadhafi-linked military targets. On Friday, airstrikes struck Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte in eastern Libya. Explosions also were heard from what appeared to be NATO strikes against Gadhafi’s forces near the coastal town of Brega.

Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press that a military stalemate exists, but that the U.S. and NATO have averted a “wholesale slaughter” and that Gadhafi is coming under increasing pressure to leave.

Gadhafi is “getting squeezed in all different kinds of ways” and is running out of money and supplies, Obama said. He added that he is confident Gadhafi ultimately will be forced to surrender power and that there is no need for a change in U.S. policy at this time.

There has been mounting international pressure on Gadhafi to step aside after 42 years in power.

Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote in a joint newspaper opinion article that while their mandate under a U.N. Security Council resolution does not include removing Gadhafi by force, “it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi in power.”

However, Gadhafi has been digging in.

On Friday, Tripoli residents reported unprecedented security measures in the capital to prevent anti-government protests after noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week.

A local journalist said large numbers of Gadhafi loyalists, including women, fanned out across the city, searching cars. Anti-aircraft guns were stationed in several streets, near mosques and main squares, he said.

“This is to scare people,” said the journalist. “All worshippers went straight home at the sight of that.”

On Friday afternoon, sustained bursts of gunfire were heard in the city, mixed with honking car horns and shouts of “God is great,” apparently as part of pro-Gadhafi marches. The government has restricted the movement of foreign journalists in Tripoli, barring them from leaving their hotel without an escort.

The rebels acknowledge that their forces — defected army units and armed civilians — can’t defeat Gadhafi on their own. Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Transitional Council, said this week that without NATO airstrikes, even Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the rebels’ main stronghold, would be in “complete danger.”

Rebel fighters bemoan their inferior munitions. As ammunition and rockets become scarce, they scavenge the ruins of Gadhafi’s arsenal for supplies.

“We have rocket launchers that don’t work because they don’t have batteries,” said Awad Sathi, a 36-year-old soldier who defected to the rebels. “Without the batteries, it’s just a pile of junk.”

Clinton said the opposition “needs a lot of assistance on the civilian, organizational side, on the humanitarian side and on the military side.”

“There have been a number of discussions about how best to provide that assistance, who is willing to do what,” she added. “We’re also looking at how the opposition could sell oil from sites that are under their control.”

Highlighting the rebels’ dependence on NATO, a regime force of tanks and armed pickup trucks moved on Ajdabiya this week, some even entering the city before airstrikes halted the advance.

Rebel fighters say only more airstrikes can tip the balance quickly.

“I don’t think Gadhafi’s forces are weakened, but he doesn’t have the freedom to advance,” said Lt. Muftah Omar Hamza, who commands 70 rebels. “Even if they destroy 50 percent of Gadhafi’s forces, the other 50 percent is stronger than our force.”

Western countries insist that the U.N. resolution authorizing intervention would not permit them to send ground troops — which the rebels don’t want anyway.

NATO hopes that, during the military stalemate, economic and political pressure will build on Gadhafi, sparking further uprisings, defections from his regime or even an assassination by a close aide.

___

Hubbard reported Benghazi. Also contributing were Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo, Sebastian Abbot in Ajdabiya, Libya, Matthew Lee in Berlin and Ben Feller in Washington.

Gadhafi defiant despite NATO airstrikes in Tripoli

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110414/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

In this image made from TV , Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is seen in Tripoli on Thursday April 14 2011. Libyan TV broadcast footage on Thursday showi

By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Karin Laub, Associated Press 24 mins ago

TRIPOLI, Libya – Moammar Gadhafi rolled defiantly through the streets of Tripoli, pumping his fists as he poked through the sun roof of an SUV on Thursday — the same day that NATO airstrikes shook the city. The alliance’s foreign ministers, while united in their aim to pressure the Libyan leader to go, argued at a meeting over whether to step up military operations that have so far failed to rout him.

Gadhafi gave no sign that he’s willing to relent, despite two months of civil war and mounting international pressure for him to move aside. Instead, his loyalists pounded rebel positions in the besieged western city of Misrata with dozens of rockets for several hours, killing at least 13 people.

The main target of the assault was Misrata’s port, the only lifeline for rebels who have been trying to defend positions in the city, Libya’s third-largest, against Gadhafi’s forces.

In the capital of Tripoli, several large explosions were heard and a column of black smoke rose from the southeastern part of the city, followed by the sound of anti-aircraft guns, a resident said.

Libyan state television showed Gadhafi — dressed in a black Western blazer, black crew neck T-shirt, sunglasses and a hat — standing through the open sun roof of a sport utility vehicle on a fist-pumping, rapid ride through Tripoli with dozens of supporters chasing behind him. Libyan TV said the trip came on the same day that NATO airstrikes hit military and civilian areas in the capital.

The TV report said there were civilian casualties from the attacks. The report could not be confirmed.

The fighting in Libya began in mid-February when large anti-government protests escalated into a civil war. Rebels hold much of eastern Libya, while Gadhafi controls the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. Three weeks of international airstrikes haven’t routed Gadhafi’s forces.

Gadhafi’s troops unleashed three hours of heavy shelling on the port city of Misrata, which is partly held by rebels. The port is Misrata’s only lifeline, and government forces fired tank shells and dozens of Grad missiles , according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.

“They want to flatten the area to deploy the troops on foot and invade the city,” said one of the witnesses, a doctor whose first name was Ayman. He added that a ship sent by Doctors Without Borders to evacuate 165 critically injured people to Tunisia had been scheduled to arrive Thursday morning at Misrata’s port, and he believed the government had shelled the port to interfere with the humanitarian aid.

Another doctor in Misrata, who gave his name only as Khaled for fear of retribution, said some of those killed were inside their houses asleep at the time of the shelling. Among the dead were two men aged 75 and 80.

Gadhafi forces have control of a highway on the outskirts of Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chaired a Cairo meeting of regional and international organizations on Libya and set three targets: reaching and implementing a cease-fire, delivering humanitarian aid and starting a dialogue on Libya’s future.

“Shelling your own people is not acceptable,” he said at a meeting at Arab League headquarters, referring to actions by Gadhafi’s forces. “This is a violation of human rights.”

At a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, the United States and its allies put up a united front on the goals of the alliance’s stalemated military mission in Libya but failed to resolve behind-the-scenes squabbling over how to achieve them.

NATO members agreed on paper with President Barack Obama that Gadhafi had to go to end the crisis, they also made clear that they would not be the ones to oust him. Although several NATO members want the alliance to commit more planes to expand the air campaign, the first day of meetings closed without any specific commitments for more aircraft.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for unity, saying Gadhafi was taunting the alliance by continuing to strike cities held by rebels seeking his overthrow.

“As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important,” Clinton said. “Gadhafi is testing our determination.”

The United States is resisting suggestions that it resume a large combat role to break a deadlock between rebels and better-armed forces loyal to Gadhafi.

Clinton and other top diplomats pointedly said their U.N. mandate for an air campaign does not extend to Gadhafi’s exit by force.

The allies again resolved to enforce a U.N. arms embargo, protect civilians acting to push Gadhafi forces out of cities they have entered, and get in humanitarian aid.

But differences over the scope of the military operation persisted, with Britain and France insisting on more action, particularly from sophisticated U.S. surveillance and weapons systems, and U.S officials maintaining that the alliance already has the tools to get the job done.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris “had wanted (NATO) to intensify its strikes, and we received the assurance that that would be the case.”

Clinton did not say if the U.S. would send more ground attack craft, but she said Washington would continue to support the NATO mission until its goals were met.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said the opposition in Benghazi is encouraged by the diplomatic talks but worried that it won’t translate in to concrete action fast enough to prevent more civilian deaths.

“It will be interesting to see if there is any movement on the ground or just a lot of talk and no action,” he said. “Is there something else on the diplomatic ground that they know that we don’t to put more pressure on Gadhafi? The guy is still shelling and killing, and it makes no difference to him.”

He mentioned specifically the shelling of Misrata and said the international community’s actions will largely determine how long the conflict lasts.

“They wrote off Gadhafi’s regime. The question is how fast their plan is going to take care of him. We know arming ourselves will lead to the eventual toppling of the regime. But are we willing to wait two years or three years or a year and a half? How many victims do we have to accept?”

Rebel leaders have said they would only consider a truce if it Gadhafi is removed from power first.

At the Cairo meeting of top diplomats, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Gadhafi “must leave immediately” and that Libyans should be given a chance to choose a new leader.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa told reporters after the meeting that the situation in Libya is “very grave.”

Brief clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Gadhafi demonstrators outside the meeting. The two camps hurled rocks at each other, with at least one protester seen with blooded face after being hit in the head with a stone. The anti-Gadhafi protesters outnumbered the pro-Gadhafi demonstrators, chased them and forced them to flee.

NATO said it had conducted 153 sorties in the last 24 hours, striking 13 bunkers, one tank and one armored personnel carrier in the Tripoli area and three multiple rocket launchers in the Brega area.

Journalists were taken to Tripoli’s Fateh University where they were shown damage they were told was the result of an airstrike earlier in the day. The blast shattered windows of several buildings, including two student cafeterias, and glass shards were scattered across the floor. Tiles of false ceilings had been knocked out in several lecture halls.

Government minders traveling with the journalists said the strike had hit a military target nearby and white smoke was seen rising from a group of trees several hundred yards from the campus. The minders would not elaborate or allow anyone to approach the targeted area. However, one journalist who had snatched a glimpse from a rooftop said she had seen an anti-aircraft battery at the site. Photographs taken later showed a large military truck in the area.

A Tripoli resident said many people were fasting in preparation for mass anti-Gadhafi protests Friday, the 25th anniversary of the 1986 U.S. raid on Tripoli.

Life in Libya “is becoming harsh,” with prices skyrocketing, gasoline scarce and long lines in front of bakeries, said the resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Al-Sadek al-Ghariani, a top Muslim cleric in Libya, said in a video posted on Facebook that it was a religious duty to join Friday’s protests. In February, he issued two fatwas calling for anti-Gadhafi protests and then went into hiding. Gadhafi forces apparently are trying to find him.

At the western edge of Ajdabiya, the main gateway town into the opposition-held east, two wounded rebel fighters were brought through, and the rebel forces retaliated by firing rockets in the direction of Brega.

In western Libya, rebels attacked a small military base about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Nalut and chased away 40 soldiers who had been trying to stop aid from Tunisia and harassing people trying to flee into that country. In apparent retaliation, Libyan government forces shelled the town of Tikut.

Rebel chief of Staff Abdel-Fatah Younes said the opposition fighters have received new anti-tank weapons from Qatar and that experts from that country are training the forces to use them.

Also Thursday, Libyan TV reported Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, mediated the release of Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera correspondent Amar al-Hamdan, who was en route to the Libya-Tunisian border.

___

Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo, Sebastian Abbot in Ajdabiya, Libya; Hadeel al-Shalchi in Tunis, Tunisia; and Geir Moulson and Matthew Lee in Berlin contributed reporting.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110414/ap_on_re_eu/eu_nato_foreign_ministers

By GEIR MOULSON and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Geir Moulson And Matthew Lee, Associated Press 1 hr 7 mins ago

BERLIN – NATO nations stressed Thursday that their common aim in Libya is to bring an end to Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the world must increase its support for the Libyan opposition.

The effort to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya topped the agenda at a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from NATO’s 28 member countries. Three weeks of airstrikes haven’t routed Gadhafi’s forces, causing tensions in the alliance.

Although NATO countries agree that Gadhafi must be ousted, his departure is not one of its military goals and the alliance has been at odds on how to proceed. One proposal from Italy — Libya’s former colonial ruler — calls for the western powers to provide defensive weapons to rebels.

France has said NATO isn’t doing enough, and was pushing other countries at the meeting to work “on more robust, more efficient, more rapid actions,” according to French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero in Paris.

The rebels — along with France and Britain — have been urging the U.S. military to reassert a stronger role in the NATO-led air campaign. The Obama administration, however, has been insisting the U.S. will stick to its plan to remain in a supporting role, and the Pentagon noted that Americans have flown 35 percent of all Libyan air missions over the last 10 days.

Clinton appealed to the other NATO foreign ministers to show unity.

“As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important,” Clinton said Thursday. “Gadhafi is testing our determination.”

NATO members are “sharing the same goal, which is to see the end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya,” Clinton said. “We must also intensify our political, diplomatic and economic mission to pressure and isolate Gadhafi and bring about his departure.”

Clinton drew a line between NATO’s goals of enforcing an arms embargo, protecting civilians, and forcing the withdrawal of Gadhafi forces from rebel cities they have entered, with the international community’s demand that Gadhafi leave power.

The world must “deepen our engagement with and increase our support for” the Libyan opposition, she added.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance and its partners “are fully engaged in operations to safeguard the people of Libya, taking every measure possible to prevent Gadhafi’s brutal and systematic attacks.”

The alliance is keeping up “a high operational tempo,” he added.

France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, struck a diplomatic tone as he met with his counterpart from Germany, which isn’t taking part in the military operation and abstained in the U.N. vote authorizing it.

“In reality, we have the same objective — this objective is to allow the Libyan people to enjoy democratic freedom,” Juppe said, adding “there will not be a military solution to the problem, there can only be a political solution.”

“There is no future in Libya with Gadhafi,” Juppe added.

Juppe said outsiders can support political forces that aspire to democracy, but he was guarded when asked whether France thinks the Libyan rebels should be supplied with arms.

“France is not in this frame of mind,” he replied.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin agrees with France and others that “Libya can only have a good future if this dictator goes.”

He said he was “very happy that we have together succeeded in finally pushing through a comprehensive sanctions policy — there is now a de-facto oil and gas embargo (so) that the dictator Gadhafi’s cash reserves cannot be replenished.”

Thursday’s NATO meeting also was to address efforts to hand over security responsibility in Afghanistan to local forces.

_____

David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110408/ap_on_re_eu/eu_nato_libya

By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press Slobodan Lekic, Associated Press 10 mins ago

BRUSSELS – NATO acknowledged Friday that its airstrikes had hit rebels using tanks to fight government forces in eastern Libya, saying no one told them the rebels used tanks.

British Rear Adm. Russell Harding, the deputy commander of the NATO operation, said in the past, only forces loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi had used heavy armored vehicles.

Harding says the rebels and government troops are engaged in a series of advances and retreats between the eastern coastal towns of Brega and Ajdabiya, making it difficult for pilots to distinguish between them.

NATO jets attacked a rebel convoy between these two towns Thursday, killing at least five fighters and destroying or damaging a number of armored vehicles.

“It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in (rebel) deaths,” Harding told reporters in Naples, where the alliance’s operational center is located.

“I am not apologizing,” he said. “The situation on the ground was and remains extremely fluid, and until yesterday we did not have information that (rebel) forces are using tanks.”

The strikes, including an attack earlier this week, provoked angry denunciations of NATO by the rebels. At the same time, NATO officials have expressed frustration with the Libyan insurgents, who now view the alliance, whose mandate is limited to protecting civilians in Libya, as their proxy air force.

NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, expressed regret over the loss of life, saying alliance forces were doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

NATO last week took control over the international airstrikes that began March 19 as a U.S.-led mission. The airstrikes thwarted Gadhafi’s efforts to crush the rebellion in the North African nation he has ruled for more than four decades, but the rebels remain outnumbered and outgunned and have had difficulty pushing into government-held territory even with air support.

Harding said Friday that NATO jets had conducted 318 sorties and struck 23 targets across Libya in the past 48 hours. They have flown over 1,500 sorties in the eight days since the alliance assumed overall command from a U.S.-led force.

NATO’s jets have destroyed Gadhafi’s anti-aircraft missile defenses, T-72 tanks and ammunition dumps, Harding said. The attacks also targeted Gadhafi’s loyalist forces in the besieged city of Misrata, where rebels continue to hold out.

Critics have questioned NATO’s limited strategy of only protecting civilians threatened by Gadhafi’s troops, rather than trying to eliminate the threat completely by destroying the strongman’s regime.

“By not striking at the regime from the outset, Gadhafi was granted the initiative to embed his forces in urban settings hiding behind human shields in a form of guerrilla warfare,” said Barack Seneer, a researcher on the Middle East at the Royal United Services Institute, a British military think tank.

“A no-fly zone is not equipped to contend with guerrilla warfare or with a stalemate that places rebels and loyalists at close proximity with one another.” he said

Despite the attacks on anti-aircraft sites, Gadhafi’s forces still pose a danger for NATO warplanes. They retain radars and surface-to-air missiles, as well as automatic cannons and shoulder-launched missiles that can hit planes at altitudes up to 5,000 meters (15,000 feet).

Over the past week, Gadhafi’s forces had switched tactics by leaving their heavy armor behind and using only light trucks armed with heavy machine guns and fast-firing anti-aircraft cannons on the front lines between Brega and Ajdabiya. These have proven very effective in disrupting repeated rebel attempts to push west toward Tripoli, but Gadhafi’s forces have not been able to drive the rebels back toward Benghazi or establish a solid front line in that sector.

“These trucks cannot hold ground,” Harding said. “When you see their tanks coming up, those are the vehicles that can cause the greatest harm to civilians.”

On Thursday, the situation in that sector “was very confusing, vehicles going back and forth,” he said.

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