Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eyes Turn To The Battle for Misurata

Updated 3:30 p.m. est

Moammar Gadhafi's tanks pulled back from Misurata today as coalition strikes repelled the armored attacks, but did little to silence some of the snipers who were still reportedly picking off civilians in Libya's third-largest city.

Witnesses said Gadhafi's tanks pulled back from their positions, but said snipers continued to target people from rooftops, the BBC reported.

"Some of the tanks were hit and others fled," a doctor said, according to NPR, citing a report from the Associated Press. "We fear the tanks that fled will return if the airstrikes stop."

Here is an analysis brief on Misurata from the Council on Foreign Relations.

With Gadhafi's air power grounded or destroyed, CNN reports the coalition  is setting its sights on his Gadhafi's ground forces in Ajdabiya along with Misurata.

In  Ajdabiya, about 100 miles south of Benghazi, there are reports of heavy fighting.

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Coalition forces are facing a test of whether its air superiority can defeat Moammar Gadhafi's forces in an urban battlefield laden with snipers and armored units that are now stepping up the siege of Misurata.

At least 90 people have died the past nine days in Misurata, according to The New York Times.

There were reports late today that coalition forces were targeting sites around Misurata, Mediterranean coast city about 130 miles east of Tripoli. Fighting has gone back and forth in the third-largest city in Libya (after Tripoli and the rebel stronghold Benghazi) since the earliest days of the revolt.

According to The Los Angeles Times, "A witness in Misurata said coalition warplanes or missiles struck a large ammunition depot used by Gadhafi forces south of the city, causing an earth-shaking explosion and sending a fireball into the sky early Wednesday."

Anti-Gadhafi elements in Misurata again asked for more help from the coalition, wondering whether a no-fly zone will be enough to stave off the attacks and defeat the loyalists decisively.

“This no-fly zone doesn’t mean anything to us because Gaddafi only had a few planes and they were doing nothing,” said a doctor, who spoke by telephone to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because he fears Libyan forces may soon retake the city. “We need a no-drive zone because it is tanks and snipers that are killing us.”

The concern for the coalition is the difficulty in hitting urban targets without hurting innocent civilians or the rebels.

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