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Libyan Rebels Make Gains, And The U.S. Sends More Drones To Region

A Libyan rebel fighter leans on a bicycle as he patrols the empty streets of  the residential area of the port of Brega Monday. The city represents the eastern front of the rebels' attempt to isolate Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli. i i

A Libyan rebel fighter leans on a bicycle as he patrols the empty streets of the residential area of the port of Brega Monday. The city represents the eastern front of the rebels' attempt to isolate Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli. Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images
A Libyan rebel fighter leans on a bicycle as he patrols the empty streets of  the residential area of the port of Brega Monday. The city represents the eastern front of the rebels' attempt to isolate Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli.

A Libyan rebel fighter leans on a bicycle as he patrols the empty streets of the residential area of the port of Brega Monday. The city represents the eastern front of the rebels' attempt to isolate Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli.

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Libyan rebels are fighting to isolate Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli, as their offensive in the strategic city of Zawiya continues to gain ground. Rebel forces launched their fight for the western port this past weekend, hoping to cut one of Gadhafi's main supply lines from Tunisia.

In another development Wednesday, the United States sent two more Predator drones to its military force near Libya, which has helped take control of the country's skies. The AP reports:

The Pentagon said the U.S. has flown nearly 1,200 strike operations over Libya, dropping bombs 242 times since April 1. There have been 92 Predator strikes since late April. The U.S. also operates unarmed drones for intelligence-gathering in the region.

The rebels remain in control of Benghazi, where their leadership is based, some 620 miles east of Tripoli. But Zawiya is only 30 miles from Tripoli, and many see it as a potential turning point in the conflict — and a sign that the next front in Libya's civil war may be Tripoli itself.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported from Zawiya today, for All Things Considered. She also spoke with people who said they'd just left Tripoli:

A huge power plant that supplied much of the capital's electricity was taken by the rebels late last month. And the capital is feeling the squeeze.

For weeks, Tripoli was receiving less and less electricity, and on Wednesday there was none, according to departing resident Farouk Sherwin. He also said that when he went in a shop in Tripoli, there was only milk that was past its expiration date.

Sherwin said he and his family left the capital on Wednesday with nothing but a few clothes and a bit of food. They intentionally abandoned all their other belongings because they did not want to tip anyone off that they were actually leaving the city for good.

As for the question of how the Libyan conflict might someday be resolved, NPR's Alan Greenblatt spoke earlier today with professor Dirk J. Vandewalle, of Dartmouth College, who has written or edited several books about Libya.

Vandewalle says that "unless the Transitional National Council in Libya [the rebel leadership] engages in more diplomatic statesmanship, the end logically is going to be a military takeover of Tripoli, which is not good for the country, and it's not good for the TNC."

A military solution would be a modern version of 1951, "when the country was created, with the east imposing its will on the west," Vandewalle says. "A negotiated settlement, where the TNC can prove itself to be made up of diplomatic statesmen, would be much better."

Those negotiations would have to include Gadhafi's loyalists, of course. And the leader has shown signs that he's willing to fight to the last man. On Sunday, forces loyal to Gadhafi fired a scud missile, its first use of the weapon in the six months of the rebel uprising, according to U.S. military officials.

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