Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rebels Show Signs of Life in Key Areas

The rebel army in Eastern Libya is executing well-coordinated movements with NATO for the first time as it prepares to launch another offensive, while their isolated comrades in Misurata may be on the verge of breaking the siege long held by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

And in the capital of Tripoli a band of rebels hidden away say they are loyal to the rebel government formed in Benghazi and are waiting for an opportunity to strike against Gadhafi forces. They claim to have significant numbers.

The most fierce fighting appeared to be in the besieged port city of Misurata. After NATO warplanes laid down a barrage of fire on the outskirts of the city, rebels pushed west about 10 miles toward Dafniya, The Wall Street Journal reported.

After more than two days of battles, rebels forces from Misurata were joined by fighters from Zlitan, about 35 miles away, and together they pushed Gadhafi forces out of Misurata and triggered a retreat from the city's all-important airport. They hope to keep Gadhafi loyalists far enough away from the city so their Grad missiles will be ineffective.

"The picture is looking good for us," rebel spokesman Col. Ahmed Bani told the Associated Press.

If the rebels can hold the airport it will give them a second, more reliable way to get much-needed arms, food and medicine, NPR reported. Supply shipments by sea in Misurata have been a mixed bag, given the weather and the ability for Gadhafi's snipers to hide in the city and target the port area.

The Main rebel army in Eastern Libya, meanwhile, was working closely with NATO to flush Gadhafi forces out into the open, a spokesman told reporters. The rebels west of Ajdabiya pushed forward and then made a strategic retreat from the battlefield, exposing only the Gadhafi forces to the NATO bombs.

NATO is taking steps to not hit the rebels with friendly fire as has happened on a couple of occasions on the indistinguishable battlefield.

The rebels have been stalled in the east for weeks, though there is some indication they were training, rearming, establishing a chain of command and direct communications with NATO. They hope to take the oil patch town of Brega about 20 miles to the west by the weekend.

In Tripoli yesterday, NATO bombed at least at least four targets, including a command center, a military intelligence headquarters and a building sometimes used to house members of parliament loyal to Gadhafi, according to various reports that quoted eyewitnesses.

"What we do know is it was a very sustained attack. It lasted about three hours. That's the heaviest bombardment we've seen for several weeks. And so that does indicate that they are targeting Tripoli fairly heavily," NPR reported.

In one of the most interesting developments, CNN's Frederik Pleitgen slipped away from Gadhafi escorts at the five star Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, where international journalists are corralled to take a look around on his own.

"We regularly managed to sneak out of the Rixos in recent weeks and discovered that the notion of Tripoli as a bastion of Gadhafi support is little more then a charade," Pleitgen reported.

"In one neighborhood we managed to contact the rebels. They brought us to a secret location where the refrain is: 'We are the youth of 17th of February in Tripoli. We declare our total support to the free Libyan people. We also declare our full and total support to the (rebel) Transitional National Council and believe only it and no one else is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people,'" detailed Pleitgen, now safely in Germany.

"The rebels say they believe that about 75 percent of Tripoli residents are against Gadhafi. They also say that most are afraid to take to the streets and speak their minds because Gadhafi has put armed gangs into the neighborhoods and established checkpoints to suppress dissent," the CNN correspondent added.

It is one of the most optimistic sets of developments in the three geographic areas since the revolution began more than two months ago. There is one caveat: Every time the rebels have shown signs of breaking out before, they have been pushed back or stalled. Perhaps now more than ever in the still-young uprising the insurgents need to show their supporters in Europe, the Gulf States and Washington that they are on the move.

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