A British military spokesman announced today that coalition forces have effectively wiped out Muammar Qaddafi's air force. But now they're turning their attention to the Libyan leader's ground forces, which appear to still be attacking opposition-controlled cities like Ajdabiya in the east and Zintan in the west.
Nowhere is the showdown more evident than the western city of Misrata, where, according to The New York Times, there have been 90 casualties over nine days. Qaddafi's ground troops--backed by tanks and missile launchers--have beseiged the country's third-largest city for days, the Times notes, cutting off telecommunications, electricity, and water, sending in soldiers during the day, and posting snipers on rooftops.
Late on Tuesday and early Wednesday, coalition forces launched air strikes on Qaddafi's tanks and artillery near Misrata. In their first mission, Canadian fighter jets dropped four laser-guided bombs on an ammunition depot near the city, according to CTV News and wire service reports. The strikes, at first glance, appeared to have halted Qaddafi's tank and artillery fire. But a Misrata resident told Reuters that snipers were still shooting at the local hospital and "its two entrances are under heavy attack. No one can get in or out."
And now, only hours later, Reuters is reporting that Qaddafi's forces have resumed their attacks on Misrata. A doctor in the city told the news agency that government tanks are approaching the hospital and shelling the area.
U.S. Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber, the chief of staff for the operational command, told reporters on Wednesday that the coalition would continue to attack Qaddafi's ground forces so long as they they persisted in attacking rebel-held areas. The coalition is communicating with Libyan units about how they can avoid attack, he added, but there is “no indication” that they are heeding the instructions.
Reuters is simultaneously reporting that Qaddafi's tanks are positioned at the eastern and western entrances of the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiya, near rebel headquarters in Benghazi. The photo above shows a rebel just outside the town pointing his weapon at Qaddafi's forces today, after a round of mortar fire.