- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Libyans facing daily bombardments by Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces are calling for foreign airstrikes against his strongholds as the United States and its allies continue to debate the imposition of a “no-fly zone” over Libya.

The National Transitional Council, the provisional government in rebel-held eastern Libya, favors “surgical airstrikes,” Mohamed Benrasali, a member of the provisional committee in Misurata, told The Washington Times in a phone interview Tuesday.

“We will entertain the idea of specific surgical airstrikes on the power bases of the dictator and his mercenaries,” he said.

However, he warned, “Any action should not be undertaken unilaterally by the U.S. or [Britain]. That would not go down well with our people. It should be under the umbrella of the international community.”

In Washington, President Obama talked by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron about the “full spectrum of possible responses,” the White House said. The options include a no-fly zone and an arms embargo.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, expressed his frustration Tuesday with the Obama administration’s resistance to growing international pressure and calls by the Libyan people for a no-fly zone.

“People are dying. The facts are very clear,” Mr. McCain said. “President Obama has said that Gadhafi has got to go. Wouldn’t a no-fly zone be a very important way to make that happen?”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also has endorsed a no-fly zone.

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said a no-fly zone is a “realistic possibility.” Britain and France are taking the lead among NATO allies and are drafting a U.N. resolution to establish a no-fly zone.

In rebel-held areas of Libya, the cities of Ras Lanouf, Zawiya and Misurata have borne the brunt of the regime’s offensive in recent days. While rebels say they retain control of these cities, forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi are nearby. His troops pounded Zawiya with tank and artillery fire for a fifth day Tuesday, and the army fired barrages of rockets at rebels trying to move out of Ras Lanouf.

Rebels and residents in other parts of Libya echoed the call for airstrikes.

In Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, Idris Tayeb Lamin, who spent 10 years as a political prisoner, said airstrikes should be launched on Col. Gadhafi’s tribal stronghold of Sirte and his heavily fortified military compound at Bab al-Aziziya on the outskirts of Tripoli.

“The West knows very well that if they want to strike, they can. In 1986, they never asked the Libyan people for permission,” Mr. Tayeb Lamin said. “Surgical airstrikes will end this war. It will end this tragic situation.”

In 1986, President Reagan ordered airstrikes on Bab al-Aziziya in retaliation for Libya’s terrorist bombing of a West German disco that killed two U.S. soldiers.

Anti-government groups say they willingly will hand over the coordinates of Col. Gadhafi’s strongholds to international forces.

Among potential targets cited by the rebels is the airport in Sebha in the south of the country, from which the regime is suspected of transporting African mercenaries to fight in the north. Mercenaries, many of them from the nomadic Tuareg tribe from Mali and Niger, are sent to Sebha after receiving training and arms in Awbari in the south.

“We are amazed that the U.S. does not have satellite images of these movements. We are absolutely astonished, but we know where they are,” Mr. Benrasali said.

The rebels say strikes also should be conducted on four locations in the capital of Tripoli, where the elite 32nd Brigade, led by Col. Gadhafi’s son Khamis, is based.

Col. Gadhafi’s forces this week conducted air raids on cities, including Ras Lanouf.

With some Libyan pilots refusing to bomb the cities, rebels say, the regime has recruited pilots from Algeria and Syria to do the job.

Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, on Tuesday told a congressional hearing in Washington that Col. Gadhafi’s overall air capabilities are “modest.”

“I think probably the greatest threat are their helicopter-type forces,” he said.

U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, have said that imposing a no-fly zone would be tantamount to a declaration of war because Libya’s anti-aircraft installations would have to be destroyed first.

Few Libyans buy that argument.

“The war is already on. It’s against the Libyan people,” Mr. Tayeb Lamin said.

“I don’t know why the world is waiting to stop him,” he said. “Even Hitler said, ‘Germany above all,’ but [Col. Gadhafi] is saying, ‘It is only me.’ This man has no limits. We are expecting the worst from him. If the international community does not try and stop him, it will be a war of elimination.

“The West has its own calculations,” he added, “but each hour that this war goes on means more innocent lives are being lost.”

Faleh Abdelaziz, a political consultant to the council in Misurata, said: “We don’t want the West to come to Libya and fight with us. We can make it ourselves, but we don’t have airplanes or anti-aircraft weapons. We are fighting with our bare hands.

“Delaying the imposition of a no-fly zone is a gift to Gadhafi,” he added.

Mohamed El-Faituri, a resident of Benghazi, said he was startled from his sleep by the rattling of his home’s front door as bombs exploded at an arms depot on the outskirts of the city last week.

“Would Mr. Obama be able to sleep if explosions in Washington made the front door of the White House rattle like that? How many more innocent people must die before Mr. Obama puts a no-fly zone over Libya?” an angry Mr. El-Faituri said in a phone interview with The Times.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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