Tripoli struck; Cameron sees 'time on our side'

June 15, 2011 - 9:58 AM
Mideast Libya

A plume of smoke and fire is seen after an airstrike in Tripoli, Libya, on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. NATO resumed its airstrike on the Libyan capital of Tripoli late Tuesday, blasting at least two targets just before midnight, after military leaders voiced concerns about sustaining the operations if the alliance mission drags on. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — After NATO warplanes struck anew in Libya's capital, Britain's prime minister on Wednesday dismissed talk of alliance fatigue in the fight against Moammar Gadhafi's forces. "Time is on our side," David Cameron told Parliament in London.

Just before midnight Tuesday, jets could be heard blasting at least two Tripoli targets, at locations that could not immediately be determined. On Wednesday, the British defense staff reported other strikes Tuesday, by the Royal Air Force, against three ammunition bunkers in Waddan, inland on the desert's edge, and a military vehicle near Yafran, 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Tripoli. There was no word on a casualties in the attacks.

East of the capital, meanwhile, alliance aircraft were dropping leaflets warning government troops to abandon their posts outside Zlitan, 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of the rebel-held port city of Misrata.

In recent days rebel forces have advanced along the Mediterranean coast toward Zlitan, but say they have been instructed by NATO to withdraw — ahead of expected bombing runs — to old front lines in Dafniya, 16 miles (25 kilometers) west of Misrata.

If the rebels take Zlitan, they would be within 85 miles (135 kilometers) of Tripoli's eastern outskirts. The rebels say one-third of Zlitan is held by local anti-government Libyans.

Further rebel successes in the 4-month-old uprising will depend heavily on NATO airpower, which over three months has grounded Gadhafi's air forces and weakened his other military capabilities. But some ranking NATO officers suggested this week the mission was straining the trans-Atlantic alliance's resources.

One of them, Royal Navy chief Adm. Mark Stanhope, warned that his British fleet — a key contributor to the Libya mission — will be unable to maintain the pace of operations if the mission drags on until year's end.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Cameron said he had met Tuesday with Stanhope and the admiral agreed Britain can sustain the mission as long as necessary.

"Time is on our side," Cameron told lawmakers. "We have got NATO, we've got the United Nations, we've got the Arab League, we have right on our side. The pressure is building militarily, diplomatically, politically, and time is running out for Gadhafi."

Speaking to his own parliament, South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, sounded a contrary note on Tuesday, saying the Western powers were misusing a U.N. Security Council resolution — supported by Arab and African countries — that authorized military action to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians in Libya.

"We strongly believe that the resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation," Zuma said.

The South African leader has tried to mediate a solution to the Libyan conflict on behalf of the African Union, but the Libyan rebels have rejected the AU proposal for a cease-fire and talks, insisting Gadhafi must leave power before any negotiations take place.

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Al-Shalchi reported from Misrata. Jill Lawless in London contributed reporting.