BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) ― French fighter jets hit aircraft and a crossroads military base deep inside Libya as the U.S. reduced its combat role in the international operation that is working to thwart Moammar Gadhafi’s forces by land, sea and air.
Explosions could be heard in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, before daybreak Friday, apparently from airstrikes.
Libya’s air force has been effectively neutralized, and the government has taken part of its fight to the airwaves. On Thursday, state television aired pictures of bodies it said were victims of airstrikes, but a U.S. intelligence report bolstered rebel claims that Gadhafi’s forces had simply taken bodies from a morgue.
International military support for the rebels is not open-ended:
France set a timeframe on the international action at days or weeks ― not months.
The possibility of a looming deadline raised pressure on rebel forces. So does a U.N. arms embargo that keeps both Gadhafi and his outgunned opposition from getting more weapons. The rebels were so strapped Thursday that they handed out sneakers ― and not guns ― at one of their checkpoints.
“We are facing cannons, T-72 and T-92 tanks, so what do we need? We need anti-tank weapons, things like that,” said Col. Ahmed Omar Bani, a military spokesman told reporters in Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital. “We are preparing our army now. Before there was no army, from now there is an idea to prepare a new army with new armaments and new morals.”
The Gadhafi regime appeared equally hard-pressed, asking international forces to spare its broadcast and communications infrastructure.
“Communications, whether by phones or other uses, are civilian and for the good of the Libyan nation to help us provide information, knowledge and coordinate everyday life. If these civilian targets are hit, it will make life harder for millions of civilians around Libya,” Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, told reporters in Tripoli.
Representatives for the regime and rebels were expected to attend an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Friday, according to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who described it as a part of an effort to reach a cease-fire and political solution