Gadhafi attacks continue despite coalition bombing
CAIRO—Forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi resumed attacks on Libya’s third-largest city early Thursday despite aerial bombardments by Canadian and other coalition warplanes aimed at halting the violence.
The barrage of coalition airstrikes, which involved four of Canada’s CF-18 air fighters, succeeded initially in driving back pro-Gadhafi forces from the rebel-held western city of Misurata.
But opposition officials said the government’s armoured columns returned after nightfall, renewing the week-long assault on Misurata and its central hospital, where an estimated 1,000 wounded patients and medical staff huddled without electricity.
“The shelling started again two hours ago. They have been targeting civilians and ambulances trying to enter the hospital from snipers on rooftops,” Saadun al-Misrati, a spokesman for the opposition national council in Misurata, told Al Jazeera.
“The last 48 hours saw heavy, heavy exchanges between pro-Gadhafi militias and revolutionaries on the ground. We have 80 confirmed deaths these two days,” he said.
The sorties — Canada’s first bombing runs in the UN-backed mission and the first since Kosovo in 1999 — included one attack on an ammunition depot in Misurata with four laser-guided, 500-pound bombs. The location and details of the second Canadian strike were not disclosed.
“Every indication was that the attack was very successful and there was no collateral damage,” Maj.-Gen. Tom Lawson, deputy chief of air staff, told a briefing in Ottawa.
Elsewhere, coalition officials confirmed strikes on artillery and mobile missile launchers operated by pro-Gadhafi fighters in the embattled strategic crossroads of Ajdabiya, where ragtag rebel forces have been bogged town after two days of fighting, unable to push westward.
And pro-Gadhafi forces also were also shelling Zintan in western Libya, where rebel sources said six people were killed Wednesday. It was unclear whether the dead were fighters or civilians caught in the crossfire.
In the capital, Tripoli, another strike was reported on a command facility within the city’s sprawling Bab al-Aziziya barracks, home to Gadhafi and his inner circle.
The tempo of the strikes, however, has tapered significantly, with coalition sources declaring a no-fly zone now fully established after five days of attacks on the regime’s air defence installations involving some 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Gadhafi’s air force “no longer exists as a fighting force,” said British Vice-Marshall Greg Bagwell. “We can operate over his airspace with impunity.”
The Canadian navy frigate HMCS Charlottetown sailed off the Libyan coast as coalition warships stepped up patrols after intelligence reports indicating the Gadhafi regime is seeking to break a UN-mandated arms embargo.
Five days into the coalition mission, the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and the seat of the month-old revolution, remains the only significant community to benefit from the bombardments. Coalition sources said the focus is shifting now toward pinpoint strikes on supply lines to diminish or eliminate the regime’s ability to attack besieged urban populations in Ajdabiya and Misurata, where the worst of the violence continues.
But the umbrella under which the effort will continue remained unclear, as NATO officials in Brussels adjourned a third day of talks with little sign of a command structure to assume control of the U.S.-led mission.
President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials have repeatedly promised to hand over control. But deep divisions on the merits and intensity of the bombing campaign remain, with NATO-member Turkey deeply opposed to operations continuing under the banner of the alliance.
Qadhafi officials have claimed large numbers of casualties, both civilian and military, as a result of the coalition onslaught — a tragic and bitter irony, if true, for a mission designed to protect Libyan lives.
But the international press corps in Tripoli under the watchful gaze of the regime has asked repeatedly to meet and interview injured survivors of the airstrikes and was rebuffed again Wednesday, as another day passed without evidence of blood spilled under the banner of the UN.