A building in Moammar Gaddafi’s residential compound in Tripoli was destroyed in the second night of air strikes, after coalition forces targeted air defences to enforce the no-fly zone and halted the advance of government forces on Benghazi.
Clouds of smoke rose from the Bab al-Aziziya compound in the early hours of the morning as heavy anti-aircraft fire crisscrossed the sky. No planes or missiles were visible from the ground.
It was not known where Col. Gadhafi was when the missile hit near his iconic tent late Sunday, but it seemed to show that while the allies trade nuances over whether the Libyan leader’s fall is a goal of their campaign – he is not safe.
Associated Press reporters taken to the site saw a three-storey administration building in ruins, with a circular hole on its gutted facade. But there was no smoke or sign of flames, although rubble and slabs of concrete were scattered around.
“It was a barbaric bombing,” said government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim, showing pieces of shrapnel that he said had come from the missile. “This contradicts American and western [statements] … that it is not their target to attack this place.” Ibrahim said no one had been hurt.
Bab al-Aziziya, which is guarded by well-equipped troops, houses Gaddafi’s private quarters, including a large Bedouin-style tent, as well as barracks and other military installations. It was hit in the 1986 US bombings when Gaddafi’s adopted daughter was killed.
However, Col. Gadhafi vowed to fight on. In a phone call to Libyan state television Sunday, he said he would not let up on Benghazi and said the government had opened up weapons depots to all Libyans, who were now armed with “automatic weapons, mortars and bombs.”
Oil prices jumped to nearly $103 a barrel Monday in Asia after the Libyan leader vowed a “long war” amid a second night of allied strikes in the OPEC nation. Jubilant rebels said they expected to bring him down in a matter of days.
Britain said Monday one of its bombing missions was aborted last night to avoid civilian casualties. “We believe that a number of civilians had been moved within the intended target area,” the Ministry of Defence said Monday. State television had said Col. Gadhafi’s supporters were converging on airports as human shields.
The U.S. military said the bombardment so far – a rain of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision bombs from American and European aircraft, including long-range stealth B-2 bombers – had hobbled Col. Gadhafi’s air defenses.
U.S., British and French planes also went after tanks headed toward Benghazi, in the opposition-held eastern half of the country. On Sunday, at least seven demolished tanks smoldered in a field 20 kilometres south of Benghazi, many of them with their turrets and treads blown off, alongside charred armoured personnel carriers, jeeps and SUVs of the kind used by Gadhafi fighters.
The strikes that began early Sunday gave respite to Benghazi, which the day before had been under a heavy attack that killed at least 120 people. The calm highlighted the dramatic turnaround that the allied strikes bring to Libya’s month-old upheaval.
For the past 10 days, Col. Gadhafi’s forces had been on a triumphant offensive against the rebel-held east, driving opposition fighters back with the overwhelming firepower of tanks, artillery, warplanes and warships.
Now Col. Gadhafi’s forces are potential targets for U.S. and European strikes. The UN resolution authorizing international military action in Libya not only sets up a no-fly zone but allows “all necessary measures” to prevent attacks on civilians.
“Libya will not turn into Somalia or Iraq. It will not be divided. We are battling – the Libyan people – are battling a gang of mercenaries,” Mohammed al-Misrati, a rebel spokesman in the stronghold of Misrata, told Al-Jazeera on Monday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said late Sunday that the U.S. expects turn over control of the operation to a coalition headed by France, Britain or NATO “in a matter of days,” reflecting concern that the U.S. military was stretched thin by its current missions. Turkey was blocking NATO action, which requires agreement by all 28 members of the alliance.
Gates also told reporters that President Barack Obama felt strongly about limiting the U.S. role in operations, adding: “We will continue to support the coalition, we will be a member of the coalition, we will have a military role in the coalition, but we will not have the pre-eminent role.” [Header image via Nickolette/Flickr; via The Telegraph (UK), The Huff Post and The Guardian (UK)]