LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
In Libya, forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi bombarded the rebel-controlled city of Misrata, targeting oil storage tanks and threatening the city's fuel supply. The attack yesterday is another indication that the conflict in Libya has no clear end in sight, nearly two months after Western fighter jets began to bomb Gadhafi's forces. But NATO commanders leading the war effort caution patience and insist there's been more progress than many realize.
NPR's Eric Westervelt has more from Brussels.
ERIC WESTERVELT: Everything points to a prolonged stalemate in Libya. In the east, the front is static. Gadhafi's forces are dug in near the important oil ports of Brega and Ras Lanuf. In the west, the dictator's forces are shelling the remote town of Zintan and are in firm control of Tripoli, the capital. In Misrata, the rebel's main western enclave, Gadhafi's forces still control the airport and all access to the city except the port, which Gadhafi has tried to mine and which he sporadically shells with heavy artillery.
But to U.S. Air Force Major General Mark Ramsay, the glass is half full. NATO's chief of operations and intelligence says Colonel Gadhafi now is unable to effectively command his forces in the field. Take communications - Gadhafi, Ramsay says, now has to use unsecured phones and couriers.
Major General MARK RAMSAY (U.S. Air Force): He has to resort to all sorts of measures that no military professional wants to resort to. From the old fashioned runner system, wireless communications, runners, those types of things. I wouldn't say he's in the 1860 Calvary mode, but it's getting pretty close to that.
WESTERVELT: In addition, General Ramsay says, Colonel Gadhafi is having huge problems resupplying his troops with the basics - bullets, food, spare parts -essential to sustaining any military campaign.
Maj. Gen. RAMSAY: Every day he wakes up, he has less fuel, he has less ammunition, he has less ability to control the forces he's got. And we're seeing that play out on the ground very vividly in that it's pretty obvious the balance is tipping not in his favor.
WESTERVELT: Yet the Libyan military has proved an adaptive, crafty enemy for NATO. After NATO destroyed or damaged some 260 of Gadhafi's tanks and armored personnel carriers, he changed tactics. He effectively deployed mobile mortar and rocket teams in modified pickup trucks and other vehicles that more easily blend in with the civilian population. It worked against rebels in the east and civilians who'd risen up against the regime in Misrata.
Maj. Gen. RAMSAY: We have absolutely irrefutable evidence that he used likely mortar fire to drop cluster munitions on his own people for the express purpose of killing and injuring them. Had NATO not stepped in, the situation would have been much more grave. And, in fact, the regime probably would've overrun the opposition and threatened many more civilians in the city of Misrata and other major cities in Libya.
WESTERVELT: But Gadhafi's forces continue to change tactics and escalate attacks against Misrata, including repeated efforts to mine the port, the city's lifeline. And on Saturday, his troops pounded the city's fuel terminal with Grad rockets, igniting a fire that threatened to destroy the city's already limited fuel supply.
NATO's intelligence and operations chief says Gadhafi still has a few self-propelled howitzers and rocket launchers deployed on the edge of Misrata that he's using to attack key infrastructure. The shelling has made it much harder to deliver vital aid and evacuate wounded civilians and stranded migrant workers. The artillery, General Ramsay says, is well hidden and proving hard to destroy.
Maj. Gen. RAMSAY: They literally pop out, fire, and go back under cover. Either completely out of cover or they're parked next to a civilian house or other facilities where the possibility of collateral damage or death to innocent civilians is just too great for us to strike them.
WESTERVELT: To many, it appears NATO is directly targeting Gadhafi for assassination - something that is not part of the U.N. resolution. The dictator has had at least two close calls when NATO bombed sites where he was working. Many wonder if NATO defines a command and control site anywhere Gadhafi might be napping or talking on a phone. General Ramsay insists that's not the case.
Maj. Gen. RAMSAY: We are not targeting anybody's homes. The facilities that we have targeted are absolutely, clearly, his regime's command and control facilities to control his fielded military forces.
WESTERVELT: The White House likes to say the U.S. is largely in a supporting role in Libya. But in addition to supplying some three-quarters of the aerial refueling, American NATO officials say U.S. fighter jets have been used recently to bomb radar sites when Gadhafi has tried to reconstitute his air-defense system.
The U.S. also has two Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles in the air over Libya around the clock, providing surveillance and, when needed, attacking.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Brussels.
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