|Armed Predator drone|
Today Libyan rebels claimed that they have recaptured the center of the besieged western city of Misurata, partly thanks to surge in NATO airstrikes, and said they hoped deployment of U.S. armed Predator drones could help them drive Moammar Gaddafi’s forces out of the city completely.
Further east, in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the strongest congressional proponents of U.S. military intervention in Libya, made an unannounced visit to assess the situation for himself and called the rebels his heroes.
Rebels were buoyed by signs of progress in their military struggle against Gadahfi, seizing control of a border crossing with Tunisia near the country’s western mountains and, they said, reclaiming the center of Misurata.
|Adm. Mike Mullen|
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said coalition airstrikes have degraded Gadahfi’s ground forces by 30 to 40 percent but that the conflict nevertheless was “certainly moving towards a stalemate.”
In Misurata, though, the mood has lifted after weeks of increasingly desperate calls for more international help. Gadahfi’s forces seemed to be in disarray in Misurata, said Mohamed, a spokesman for the city council, who asked that his full name be withheld for safety reasons.
Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city 131 miles east of Tripoli, has resisted a Gadahfi counteroffensive for more than a month, becoming the last remaining rebel stronghold on Libya’s western Mediterranean coast.
“There is a general pattern of collapse everywhere,” Mohamed said, “According to our fighters, they [Gadahfi’s troops] seem to be acting like headless chickens, because their command and control has been disrupted by NATO.”
|Libyan Resistance Fighters|
The rebel account could not be independently verified, and Gadahfi’s government says it still controls 80 percent of the city. However, videos released by the rebels in Misurata showed their flags flying over pockmarked and charred high-rise buildings in the city, with fighters walking through streets strewn with glass and rubble, waving their hands in the air triumphantly and shouting Allahu Akbar (God is greatest).
Mohamed said the rebels had killed around 100 government soldiers in Misurata on Tuesday and scores since then. The rebels now control all of the city center and its main Tripoli Street, apart from a group of Gadahfi’s troops holding out in the main hospital who were surrounded and being asked to surrender, he said.
“I walked all the way down Tripoli Street myself this morning, all the way to the hospital,” he said. Mohamed and doctors in the city had expressed growing frustration with NATO in past week, but on Friday he said that if not for the alliance, Misurata would have been overrun a long time ago.
|Libyan Rebel Flag Flies In Misurata|
Mohamed said the rebels have secured the roads leading east and west of the city to prevent Gadahfi from sending in reinforcements but have not yet secured the road leading south to Bani Waled.
Residents in Misurata complain of water shortages and a lack of goods ranging from baby food to vegetables. They say electricity in the city has been cut off, forcing them to rely on generators. Thousands of stranded foreign migrant workers are awaiting evacuation in the port area.
There has also been intense fighting in the country’s remote western mountains in the past week, and rebels seized control of the border crossing to Tunisia nearest the area on Thursday. The government claimed that its military regained control of the border post later in the day, but witnesses said this was untrue, with the rebel flag still flying over the post on Friday.