The transfer from U.S. leadership, sought by President Obama, is expected to take a few days to complete after it is officially approved.
The move comes amid an apparently intensifying campaign of airstrikes and missile attacks that are taking a toll on Gaddafi’s forces but have not relieved the siege of rebel-held Misurata, where a humanitarian crisis is unfolding.
In Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in eastern Libya, a spokesman for the anti-Gaddafi forces said that loyalist troops in the strategic city of Ajdabiya were trying to surrender.
“We are trying to negotiate with these people in Ajdabiya because we are almost sure that they have lost contact with their headquarters,” said Col. Ahmad Omar Bani, a former Libyan air force pilot. “We received information from freedom fighters in Ajdabiya saying some [Gaddafi] fighters have offered to leave their tanks,” he said, adding that a local imam was helping in the negotiations.
Bani said the opposition is forming a “new army” that will be more organized than the rebels, but he could not say how long that would take.
Earlier Thursday, French fighter jets destroyed a Libyan plane near Misurata and bombed an air base deep inside Libya, as U.S. and British cruise missiles struck targets in and around the capital, Tripoli.
The strikes further pounded the already decimated Libyan air force, but they failed to prevent Gaddafi’s tanks from reentering Misurata overnight and shelling the area around its main hospital, news services reported.
The continued fighting aggravated a humanitarian crisis that doctors in Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city 130 miles east of Tripoli, say has been growing worse.
The transfer to NATO of Operation Odyssey Dawn, as the coalition’s Libyan mission is known, began to take shape when Turkey announced it would not longer oppose the shift, paving the way for the United States to turn over command in the coming days.
Turkey is the only Muslim-majority member of NATO, and the alliance needs all 28 member nations to approve any military action. Davutoglu told Turkish state television Thursday, “Our demands have been met on Libya. The operation will be handed over to NATO.”
Obama has said he intends to turn the mission over to international command in “days, not weeks,” and the announcement of Turkish support apparently allows that to happen over the weekend.