Kaim said the tribes in towns surrounding Misurata, known to support Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, were preparing to take over the fight for the rebel-controlled city, which Gaddafi’s forces have been pounding for weeks with rocket, mortar and sniper fire and cluster bombs.
“You will see how they will be swift and quick and fast, and the Libyan army will be out of this situation in Misurata, because the Libyan people around Misurata cannot sustain it like this,” Kaim said.
He said the local tribes had given the army an ultimatum: “If you can’t do it, we will do it.”
The announcement came as Misurata witnessed what opposition spokesman Mohammed Ali said appeared to be its first Predator drone attack at the vegetable market on Tripoli Street, the main three-mile avenue that divides the city, where a few of Gaddafi’s troops are still holed up and attacking.
“We are winning. All of [Gaddafi’s] tanks and weapons have been seized inside Misurata,” he said.
At least 400 people have been killed in the city during the siege, according to doctors, and more than 1,000 are presumed dead.
Rebels in Misurata said the government’s announcement seemed intended to mask the “collapse” of Gaddafi’s forces in the key western city, 131 miles east of Tripoli.
“Gaddafi’s forces are not retreating,” Ali said. “They know they have failed. They’re witnessing the collapse of their forces. I think [Gaddafi] is trying to disguise his loss.”
Shelling of Misurata continued Saturday from government forces stationed south and southwest of the city.
In Tripoli, a NATO airstrike hit what appeared to be an underground military bunker early Saturday morning. Libyan officials who took reporters to the site near Gaddafi’s compound said it was a civilian parking lot with an underground water system.
Residents of Misurata ventured downtown for the first time in weeks Friday as rebels celebrated regaining control of the city center and said they hoped the deployment of U.S.-armed Predator drones could help them drive Gaddafi’s forces out completely.
In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, far to the east, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the strongest congressional proponents of military intervention against Gaddafi, made an unannounced visit and called for further U.S. and international assistance to the rebels, whom he described as his heroes.
Rebels appeared buoyed by the signs of progress in their military struggle against Gaddafi: As well as reclaiming the center of Misurata, they seized control Thursday of a border crossing with Tunisia near the country’s western mountains.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that coalition airstrikes had degraded Gaddafi’s ground forces by 30 to 40 percent, and he predicted further weakening. Although he acknowledged that the conflict was at a stalemate, especially in the east, he expressed optimism about the long-term prospects.