Y HADEEL AL-SHALCHI AND SEBASTIAN ABBOT
TRIPOLI, Libya -- A delegation of African leaders said Sunday that their Libyan counterpart, Moammar Gadhafi, accepted their "road map" for a cease-fire with rebels, whom they will meet Monday. They met hours after NATO airstrikes battered Gadhafi's tanks, helping Libyan rebels push back government troops who had been advancing quickly toward the opposition's eastern stronghold.
Though the AU has condemned attacks on civilians, last week its current leader, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, decried foreign intervention in Libya's nearly two-month-old uprising, which he declared to be an internal problem.
An official from the African bloc, Khellaf Brahan, said previously that its proposals call for an immediate cease-fire, opening channels for humanitarian aid and talks between the rebels and the government.
Over the past few days, Gadhafi's forces have been knocking the rebels back eastward in their most sustained offensive since international airstrikes drove them back last month. If they had taken Ajdabiya, they would have had a clear path to opposition territory including Benghazi, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) away along the coast.
"If he controls Ajdabiya, he makes us feel like we are unsafe because he can move anywhere in the east," said Col. Hamid Hassy, the rebel battlefield commander.
Western airstrikes, initially conducted under U.S. leadership, began on March 19 to repel Gadhafi's forces just as they were at the doorstep of Benghazi.
Hassy said Gadhafi's forces fled the western gate of Ajdabiya and by mid-afternoon had been pushed back about 40 miles (60 kilometers) west of the city. However, sporadic shelling could still be heard around western Ajdabiya.
A body brought to the morgue, said to be a rebel fighter shot near Ajdabiya's west gate, had his hands and feet bound. Another body was an Algerian who had been fighting for Gadhafi, Dr. Suleiman Rafathi said at the hospital. He said the man's ID confirmed his origin, but that rebels took the ID before an Associated Press reporter arrived. Rebels have said many Gadhafi fighters are foreign mercenaries.
Another Gadhafi fighter, about 20 years old, was on a ventilator - brain-dead but with a beating heart, Rafathi said.
Rebel fighter Sami Kabdi said the young man had been firing out a window of a school. When rebels told him to surrender, he put the muzzle of his AK-47 under his chin and fired, Kabdi and Rafathi said.
Rebels had been growing critical of NATO, which accidentally hit opposition fighters in deadly airstrikes twice this month. They have complained that the alliance was too slow and imprecise, but Hassy, the rebel commander, said it is getting better.
"To tell you the truth, at first NATO was paralyzed but now they have better movement and are improving," he said.
The commander of the NATO operation, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, stressed in a NATO statement that the point of the airstrikes was to protect civilians, not to work hand-in-hand with the rebels.
"The situation in Ajdabiya, and Misrata in particular, is desperate for those Libyans who are being brutally shelled by the regime. To help protect these civilians we continued to strike these forces hard," Bouchard said.
NATO noted that it is enforcing the no-fly zone on both sides, having intercepted a rebel MiG-23 fighter jet that it forced back to the airport Saturday.
In the embattled city of Misrata, the lone rebel outpost in the west of the country, residents said shelling continued Sunday, killing one and wounding two others seriously.
"We woke up at 7 a.m. from the tank fire," said a doctor working at the local hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Libya's third-largest city has been pounded without cease for more than a month by Gadhafi's heavy weapons, but the rebels have managed to hold out.
In Tripoli, Libya's deputy foreign minister accused NATO of a double standard on the no-fly zone, claiming that government forces shot down two U.S.-built Chinook helicopters being used by rebel forces in the east of the country.
"We have a question for the allied forces - is this resolution made for the Libyan government only or everyone in Libya?" he asked.
The report could not be confirmed with the rebels, but journalists in the area did describe seeing at least one helicopter apparently fighting for the rebels in the area Saturday, though it lacked the distinctive double rotor design of the Chinook and appeared to be a Russian-built model.Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. jets, won’t be flying with NATO forces over Libya after April 2. Mullen said planes would be made available only if requested by NATO.
Rebels have been in retreat for three days as Qaddafi’s troops regain the initiative after almost two weeks of allied air strikes against them. Mullen said poor weather over the past three days in Libya meant pilots “can’t get on the targets; they can’t see the targets.”
U.S. political and military leaders said they’re unwilling to start providing arms and training for rebels fighting against Qaddafi. Mullen said there are “plenty of countries who have the ability, the arms, the skill set to be able to do this.” Gates said the U.S. doesn’t know enough about the insurgent groups beyond a “handful” of leaders.
Air Force spending $4 million a day for Libya war
WASHINGTON -- The Air Force secretary says the service has been spending about $4 million a day to keep 50 fighter jets and nearly 40 support aircraft in the Libya conflict, including the cost of munitions.Secretary Michael Donley tells reporters that the Air Force has spent $75 million as of Tuesday morning on the war. He says the U.S. decision to end its combat strike role in the conflict will cut costs, but he could not say by how much.He says the Air Force has spent close to $50 million on the relief effort for the Japan earthquake, including $40 million to evacuate between 5,000-6,000 U.S. personnel.The total U.S. costs for the Libya air campaign as of March 28 were $550 million, not counting normal deployment spending.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/05/2151385/air-force-spending-4-million-a.html#ixzz1JAR56ZWA