Air raids rattle Libya
BLASTS and anti-aircraft fire rattled Tripoli yesterday as allied air raids against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces entered a sixth day amid reports Libya’s air force was mostly obliterated.
The anti-aircraft gunfire began around 3.30pm AEDT and there were ensuing explosions, an AFP reporter said. As an armada of NATO warships patrolled Libya’s coast to enforce an arms embargo against Gaddafi, fresh efforts to hand the alliance command of the military operations collapsed after days of sometimes acrimonious debate. A NATO diplomat said the 28-nation alliance would try again to reach a decision on whether NATO should take charge of the operation launched on Saturday by Britain, France and the United States.
But nations were already hailing the success of the air strikes, with British Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell saying Libya’s air force has been almost totally obliterated and ‘‘ no longer exists as a fighting force’’. US officials are also openly speculating whether the continued pressure will force Gaddafi out of power. Witnesses also reported a huge blast on Wednesday night at a military base in the Tajura residential neighbourhood about 32 kilometres east of the capital, while anti-aircraft fire was heard as warplanes thundered over Tripoli.
The official JANA news agency said coalition raids on Tajura killed ‘‘ a large number’’ of civilians. Tajura was struck three times, the agency said, adding the third raid ‘‘ targeted rescuers who were trying to remove the dead and wounded from the rubble and the destruction caused by t he first two raids’’. The claims could not be independently confirmed.
Tajura is home to the most important Libyan military bases and was struck by allied forces on the first day of operations on Saturday, launched against Libya to impose a UN no-fly zone. Although the endgame in Libya remains unclear, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said mounting pressure on Gaddafi’s regime could encourage his associates or even members of his family to turn on him.