Sunday, April 10, 2011

NATO Strikes Back; Gadhafi Forces Claim Two Helos Downed

Updated 5:30 p.m. edt

NATO is indeed answering the critics.

Multiple airstrikes by NATO warplanes helped rebel ground forces chase Moammar Gadhafi’s forces 40 miles west of Ajdabiya, killing 20 loyalist fighters during the fighting, according to rebel forces.

NATO warplanes were also successful in Misurata, the rebel stronghold in the western part of the country, but the strikes in east were crucial to halting a Gadhafi offensive that threatened to take Ajdabiya, the last city to the west of Benghazi, the home base of the rebel government.

There were reportedly a total of 38 people killed in fighting over the weekend, including 11 rebels and seven civilians, the Associated Press reported.

NATO commanders reported alliance-led warplanes destroyed 11 tanks near Ajdabiya and another 14 near Misrata.

An African Union delegation, meanwhile, arrived in Tripoli today to discuss a cease-fire agreement, NPR reports.

Human Rights Watch charged today that Moammar Gadhafi's forces are attacking Misrata without regard for killing civilians or striking at targets like hospitals.

"The Libyan government's near siege of Misurata has not prevented reports of serious abuses getting out," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "We've heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging."

end update

The rebel complaints and second-guessing apparently caught someone's attention in Brussels.

NATO said its aircraft hit 15 tanks near Misrata and two south of Brega in the east of the country on Friday and early Saturday.

NATO's commander of Libyan operations, Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, said "a significant percentage" of his Gadhafi's armor and ammunition stockpiles east of Tripoli were struck in the past 24 hours.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Abdulrahman said in an interview with Reuters was grateful for the renewed and vigorous air campaign.

In a twist, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim claimed today the Libyan government shot down two U.S.-built attack helicopters operated by rebel forces in the east of the country near the eastern oil facilities of Brega.

"A clear violation was committed by the rebels to (United Nations) Resolution 1973 relating to the no-fly zone. The rebels used two Chinook helicopters and they were shot down," Kaim said.

The Associated Press reported, "The report could not be confirmed with the rebels, but journalists in the area did describe seeing at least one attack helicopter apparently fighting for the rebels in the area Saturday." Libya is said to have 20 of the twin-rotor helicopters in its fleet.

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