US senator in Libya after US deploys Predator drones

US Senator John McCain arrived on Friday in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, after the US Defense Department began deploying Predator drones in Libya to step up attacks on leader Moamer Gaddafi's forces.

McCain will be meeting with members of the Interim Transitional National Council (ITNC), set up in Benghazi to give a political face to the rebels.

Rebel fighters and supporters of the opposition council welcomed the development.

'We need something to change,' Ahmed Fathi, a rebel fighter from Benghazi, told the German Press Agency dpa. 'The new frontline is Misurata and we badly need help there,' he said.

Residents of the besieged city of Misurata have been appealing for stronger intervention by NATO and Western forces.

Misurata, a key city seen as a gateway to Tripoli, has been under attack for around two months, with rebels saying at least 1,000 have been killed there. Opposition fighters are clinging to key parts of the city despite the presence of pro-Gaddafi snipers.

'The snipers are on top of the tallest building in the city,' Fathi said. 'International intervention would help.'

Food, electricity, and medicine were in short supply, and activists said Gaddafi's forces had even blocked the city's sewer system.

On Thursday rebels said they had taken control of the al-Wazin border post in Tunisia, the gateway to the Libyan desert town of Nalut, opening up a new route into Libya which may allow humanitarian aid to get in and displaced people to get out.

Although the development was met with joy in Benghazi, rebels there said they have still not been able to fully secure the eastern cities of Ajdabiya or Brega.

On Thursday, lack of progress at the frontline, 35km west of Ajdabiya, meant that even paramedics from the Libyan Red Crescent, who normally trail the fighters from a distance of 1km, stayed back in Ajdabiya.

'Even holding the perimeters of Ajdabiya is an outstanding achievement when you consider the morale that has been lost,' said Hatem el-Kish, a volunteer paramedic who has been trailing the rebels for six weeks, communicating with them by satellite phone.

'Many rebel fighters have gone back to Benghazi to undergo training at the military camp,' he said.

'For those who are still out on the frontline, the balance is not in their favour. The excitement of chasing pro-Gaddafi fighters to Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad is over. When the rebels saw the real power demonstrated by pro-Gaddafi troops, they realised they were far more disorganized.'

El Kish said the rebels he knows are eager to see foreign intervention in Libya.

'The balance has swung,' he said. 'In the beginning people were comparing Libya to Iraq or Afghanistan. We were afraid that we'd see a similar situation here if we let foreign troops intervene.'

'But now it is becoming clear that we really need them,' he said.

'Libya has a very low population and when you consider the amount of men killed or injured on the frontline, it's clear that we will need back-up.'

Several western countries have said they will give more support to the rebels, including France and Britain who said they would send a small group of military experts to assist and advise Libyan rebels.

[Source: In Monsters and Critics, London, 22Apr11]

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