The new assault appeared to reflect increased cooperation between NATO and the rebel army, allowing the rebels to make modest gains on the ground this week, particularly in and around the western city of Misurata. Although it was too early to tell whether the advances would mark a meaningful turning point in a conflict that has left the country divided since February, the progress “shows where the momentum lies,” said a European diplomat privy to NATO’s internal discussions.
“It is noteworthy that Gaddafi’s forces have not been able to mount a sustained attack for quite some time,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations. He said the rebels’ recent success in Misurata was largely due to the fact that government troops had been forced to abandon entrenched positions, making them vulnerable to ground attack.
The official also stressed the importance of Tuesday’s NATO bombings in Tripoli. Several alliance members, eager to avoid a protracted stalemate in Libya, have been pushing NATO to be more aggressive in striking Gaddafi’s center of power, despite concerns about possible civilian casualties.
NATO’s mission in Libya is to prevent civilian deaths, and alliance officials have denied targeting Gaddafi. But they bombed his compound just over a week ago, apparently killing one of his sons and three grandchildren. Gaddafi, who has refused to yield power despite massive pressure both internally and internationally, has not been seen in public since that attack.
Analysts said Tuesday that they suspected NATO’s stepped-up campaign arose from a feeling that the West needs to intervene more forcefully and cannot rely on the rebels to oust Gaddafi.
“I have no doubt the regime is crumbling to some extent,” said Tarik Yousef, dean of the Dubai School of Government and a former professor at Georgetown University. “There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that a scenario is being worked on that doesn’t involve the rebels marching to Tripoli.”
Even without rebel troops anywhere near the capital, Gaddafi’s government is struggling to maintain consistent supplies. In Tripoli and all along the route to the border with Tunisia, gas lines stretch in some cases for more than half a mile, testimony to terrible shortages brought on by strict international sanctions. Many Libyans say they have to camp out in their cars for a week to fill their tanks — or face paying 30 times the official government rate on the black market.