African Union says it is planning talks to help end the war, but NATO says it could last three months
bombed Muammar Gaddafi's tanks and artillery in eastern Libya to
try to break a battlefield stalemate and help rebels take the
strategic town of Ajdabiyah.
Rebels said they had entered Ajdabiyah from the east on
Friday, Al Jazeera reported, while Gaddafi's forces held on in
the west of the town, which commands the coastal road towards
The African Union said it was planning to facilitate talks
to help end the war, but NATO said its operation could last
three months, and France said the conflict would not end soon.
In Washington, a US military spokeswoman said the
coalition fired 16 Tomahawk cruise missiles and flew 153 air
sorties in the past 24 hours targeting Gaddafi's artillery,
mechanised forces and command and control infrastructure.
Western governments hope the raids, launched a week ago with
the aim of protecting civilians, will shift the balance of power
in favour of the Arab world's most violent popular revolt.
In Tripoli, explosions were heard early on Saturday,
signalling possible new strikes by warplanes or missiles.
As the United States said Gaddafi's ability to command and
sustain his forces was diminishing, Libyan state TV said the
"brother leader" had promoted all members of his armed forces
and police "for their heroic and courageous fight against the
crusader, colonialist assault", without giving further details.
Rebels massing for an attack on Ajdabiyah earlier exchanged
artillery fire with Gaddafi's forces.
Opposition forces on the road there seemed more organised
than in recent days, when their disarray stirred doubts about
their ability to challenge Gaddafi.
They had set up road blocks at regular intervals and
Reuters counted at least four truck-based rocket launchers --
heavier weaponry than had been seen earlier this week.
Winning back Ajdabiyah would be the biggest victory for the
eastern rebels since Western military intervention halted a
counter-offensive by the better equipped Gaddafi forces which
had driven them back towards the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
It would also signal that allied airstrikes may be capable
of helping rebel fighters to eventually topple Gaddafi.
At African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, AU commission
chairman Jean Ping said the organisation was planning to
facilitate peace talks in a process that should end with
It was the first statement by the AU, which had rejected any
form of foreign intervention in the Libya crisis, since the UN
Security Council imposed a no-fly zone last week and air strikes
began on Libyan military targets.
But in Brussels, a NATO official said planning for NATO's
operation assumed a mission lasting 90 days, although this could
be extended or shortened as required.
France said the mission could go on for weeks.
"I doubt that it will be days," Admiral Edouard Guillaud,
the head of French armed forces, told France Info radio. "I
think it will be weeks. I hope it will not take months."
Guillaud said a French plane destroyed an army artillery
battery near Ajdabiyah, while in London, the Defence Ministry
said British Tornado aircraft had also been active there.
A Reuters correspondent who travelled close to Ajdabiyah on
Friday saw large plumes of black smoke rising above the eastern
entrance to the town.
A rocket apparently fired from rebel positions then hit the
eastern gate, sending a fireball into the sky. "The eastern gate
has fallen and we are sending a team to check before moving
forward," rebel Colonel Hamad al-Hasi told Reuters.
In Benghazi, rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said he
expected Ajdabiyah to fall following the Western strikes.
"(The strikes) will weaken their forces and more importantly
their morale," he said, adding the level of Western strikes was
"sufficient. We feel safe under their protection".
Simon Brooks, head of the International Committee of the Red
Cross operations in eastern Libya, reported big population
movements from the Ajdabiyah area because of the fighting.
Officials and rebels said aid organisations were able to
deliver some supplies to the western city of Misrata but were
concerned because of government snipers in the city centre.
Gaddafi's forces shelled an area on the outskirts of the
city, killing six people including three children, a rebel said.
Misrata has experienced some of the heaviest fighting
between rebels and Gaddafi's forces since an uprising began on