April 7th, 2011
08:23 PM ET

Overwhelmed rebel fighters flee from eastern Libyan city

CNN Wire Staff

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) - Airstrikes killed four people in eastern Libya on Thursday, an opposition general said, and rebel fighters and civilians made a wild, panicky retreat from a major city.

Aircraft fired missiles on a rebel formation between al-Brega and Ajdabiya on the eastern Libyan battlefront, witnesses told CNN Thursday, an act that left the opposition wondering whether NATO aircraft conducted mistaken airstrikes on the forces they are trying to protect.

It's unclear whether Libyan aircraft or NATO fired the missiles, but there haven't been Libyan air force planes in the skies for some time because NATO aircraft have established a no-fly zone.

NATO said it's looking into the strikes but didn't say who carried it out. In a statement, it said that hostilities between al-Brega and Ajdabiya have "been fierce for several days. The situation is unclear and fluid with mechanized weapons traveling in all directions."

"What remains clear is that NATO will continue to uphold the U.N. mandate and strike forces that can potentially cause harm to the civilian population of Libya," NATO said.

Gen. Abdul Fattah Yunis, commander of rebel forces, told reporters of the "unfortunate setback."

The planes fired on 20 rebel tanks near al-Brega Thursday morning, Yunis said. Gadhafi's troops moved forward after the attack, causing the opposition to pull back. Several of the tanks were destroyed.

The general said he wanted some answers from NATO on whether it or Gadhafi planes made the strike. If the latter, Yunis said, NATO should have prevented that by enforcing the no-fly zone.

He added that the rebels had notified NATO of the tank movement and of their presence.

"There is no tension between us and NATO; this is a war situation and we understand that mistakes are made," Yunis said.

Two soldiers and two medics died in the airstrike. Fourteen people were injured and six are missing, Yunis said.

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soundoff (One Response)
  1. Mark, NYC

    Unfortunately this is what happens when you don't have forward air controllers on the front line directing the air-strikes. The rebels didnt want coalition troops on the ground.

    Air strikes are not going to do it anyway. The Rebels need close range weapons like 60 and 120mm mortars

    They need Milan anti-tank missiles, man portable machine guns and a lot more RPG's

    The only thing slow and accurate enough to winkle Gaddafi's remaining artillery, tanks and pickups out of their hiding places is Attack Helicopters like Cobras and Apaches. They are short range aircraft and will require a local airfield to refuel and re-arm and that means boots on the ground to support them.......

    The could really use a couple of regiments of special forces like Rangers or Marines to stiffen their spines and show them some discipline too.

    April 7, 2011 at 8:38 pm |