Nato co-ordinates air attack with rebel ground forces

NATO launched its most ambitious air attack of the Libyan war yesterday, co-ordinating strikes with rebel ground forces in what may be a sign of things to come west of the town of Ajdabiya.

In a plan pre-arranged with the western alliance, the rebels launched an attack towards the Gadafy-held oil town of Brega across the front line late on Monday.

A fierce firefight developed, in which the rebels claim to have destroyed 14 Libyan SUVs. But instead of advancing west, the rebel troops made a pre-arranged withdrawal.

Pro-Gadafy forces then mobilised a force of tanks and chased after the rebels, heading towards Ajdabiya. However, the rebels had prearranged to move back to a line 20km behind the front. The zone was designated as a free-fire zone and, as the Libyan tanks advanced into it, they were hit by several hours of combing attacks.

“There was a really large force of Gadafy forces heading towards Ajdabiya,” said Col Ali Bani, spokesman for the rebel army, the Free Libyan Forces.

“As they moved on Ajdabiya, they were hit by Nato forces.”

At the western gate, west of Ajdabiya, the furthest place to which journalists are allowed access, rebel units were in high spirits. “We did our job,” said Abdu Jawad, brigade commander of the Omar Mukhtur brigade, who took part in the rebel assault.

“We attacked their positions using grads and 106mm guns. We destroyed 14 of their SUVs. Then we moved back. I felt sorry that Nato told us to pull back but we understand why they did it.”

He said he did not know how many Libyan tanks were struck by the Nato raids but the raids had carried on into the early hours.

Around him, a column of 40 vehicles including trucks with grad rocket launchers were heading for the front. The troops gave victory signs as they passed, but military police prevented journalists from journeying towards the front line itself. The soldiers sported new boots and uniforms similar to those of Italian and American armies.

Nato gave firm instructions to rebel units to stay behind a demarcation line to avoid repeats of the friendly-fire incidents that have marred previous operations.

A source who arrived with food supplies for the troops said French and British advisers are stationed near the front line, to direct air support and organise the new rebel battalions to act in concert.

The Nato strikes were timed to coincide with a heavy bombardment of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in the early hours of the morning.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos called yesterday for a pause in hostilities to help ease the humanitarian crisis. She told the UN Security Council that Misurata was in a dire state and short of food and water.

[Source: By Chris Stephen in Ajdabiya, Irish Times, 11May11]

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