Airstrikes pound Tripoli as NATO escalates Libya campaign
An increase in NATO strikes along with British and French commitment to deploy attack helicopters may be aimed at breaking a stalemate in the conflict.
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The strikes – combined with a fresh commitment by Britain and France to deploy highly precise attack helicopters in Libya – appeared to signal a NATO escalation to break the current stalemate, if not actually target the Libyan leader.
"I think it is an absolute sign of [NATO] intensification, soon after the announcement of new military helicopters to be deployed," says an opposition activist in the capital, where some 20 thunderous blasts came in 30 minutes. "This sends a message that the focus is on the regime stronghold. This suggests that [NATO] really wants to decapitate this killing machine, rather than eat away at it."
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NATO said it was targeting a facility adjacent to Col. Qaddafi's compound for vehicles that were "active" in resupplying pro-Qaddafi forces that mounted "attacks against innocent civilians." The Western military alliance, which took the lead from US military planners soon after a mid-March UN Security Council resolution authorized "all necessary means" to protect civilians, says it is not targeting individuals.
But the intensity of bombardment in the vicinity of Qaddafi's headquarters early Tuesday convinced some in Tripoli otherwise. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “We are very much behind the intensification of the military campaign and … so is France.”
NATO's escalation has heartened the beleaguered opposition movement, although it remains unclear whether military might alone can tip the balance in Libya. And even if it does, what would come next is uncertain.
"The more they bomb, the higher our spirits," says the activist in Tripoli, who says Libyans came out to cheer and whistle from their rooftops. After the bombardment, he says, Qaddafi loyalists patrolled the streets "shooting in the air and at walls to silence everyone."
Fading optimism in rebels' de facto capital
A European analyst in the eastern city of Benghazi says that the initial optimism, elation, and energy of rebel gains in the three-month civil war has been "fading" in the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi. Rebel control in eastern Libya has solidified but not expanded, despite some 2,500 NATO airstrikes in the last two months.