April 5, 2011 8:10 pm
Pro-Gaddafi forces pounded rebel positions near Brega on Tuesday, forcing opposition fighters into their biggest retreat for days.
Amid fears of a protracted stalemate, rebels and Gaddafi loyalist troops had clashed around Brega for days with neither making significant headway. But on Tuesday a sustained artillery barrage forced the rebels to pull back towards Ajdabiya.
Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the Canadian commanding the overall operation, told Nato ambassadors on Tuesday that alliance operations had destroyed about 30 per cent of the military capabilities of the pro-Gaddafi forces. But the regime still appears to have the military ascendancy, holding back the rebels at Brega in the east and continuing to bombard the besieged western city of Misurata, as well as other towns south-west of Tripoli.
Brigadier General Mark van Uhm, the Dutch officer who serves as the chief of allied operations in Nato’s military headquarters, said Misurata had become the campaign’s “number one priority” because of the deteriorating situation on the ground.. He said pro-Gaddafi forces had changed tactics in recent days, using light vehicles to transport personnel to the front and hiding tanks and other heavy equipment in cities to avoid Nato strikes.
“We have absolute confirmation that in Misurata tanks are being dispersed, being hidden, and humans being used as shields, in order to prevent Nato sorties to identify and target those assets,” Gen van Uhm said.
The US, meanwhile, dispatched an envoy to Benghazi to meet with opposition leaders. Three countries – France, Qatar and Italy – have formally recognised the opposition’s National Council.
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