21 Mar 2011

Western Intervention Came Just in Time


A rebel fighter looks on as missiles strike vehicles belonging to Colonel Qaddafi’s forces (Reuters photo)

Western aid to the Libyan insurgency, in the form of French fighter jets and US cruise missiles, arrived in the nick of time, preventing Muamar Qaddafi’s armed forces from capturing the rebellion capital of Benghazi and dealing a possibly fatal blow to the revolt against his authority.

The Guardian’s correspondent Richard Pendlebury reports that a Qaddafi-loyalist armored column was destroyed just as it closed in on Benghazi.

Benghazi just about hung on. …

Gaddafi’s armoured forces failed in their attempt to blitzkrieg a way, using tanks and heavy artillery, into the centre of this rebel stronghold.

It was the dictator’s last chance, because Nato airpower then took a terrible toll. …

The evidence of this mauling could be seen yesterday all along the main highway leading into the city from the south.

Outside the university, where Gaddafi forces had raised his green flag on Saturday morning, several vehicles were burned out, probably hit during ground fighting.

For the first mile after that the wrecks I saw were also probably the result of desperate rebel attempts to stem Gaddafi’s armoured thrust.

A knocked-out Gaddafi tank straddled the central reservation, the result, it seemed, of a hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

A few hundred yards away a wrecked armoured car was still smoking; across the road a tank transporter had been destroyed by an explosion which also felled a large tree.

But a little further out of Benghazi I came across the first, indisputable evidence of Nato airstrikes and their effectiveness. In a field a few yards from the road lay the decapitated and upturned turret of a main battle tank. It was some distance from the crushed and burned-out carcass, from which huge pieces of armour plate had also been torn off and scattered as if feathers, by a massive explosion.

Smoke on the horizon drew us onwards. And suddenly, there it was: The breathtaking and dreadful spectacle of an armoured column which had in the last hours been hit suddenly and with utter devastation from the air.

An armoured personnel carrier was still burning on its heavy transporter, one of several lying destroyed in the fields beside the road. There were maybe two dozen vehicles in all.

The most arresting sight was a line of huge and relatively modern self-propelled guns. Their large calibre cannon were easily within shelling range of central Benghazi. But missile strikes had ripped the tanks to pieces, their turrets and guns lying twisted and grotesque.

Smashed: A tank belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi burns after an air strike by coalition forces

Cooking pots, opened ration packs and blankets, scattered about the wreckage, suggested that their crews had been bivouacked here for the night when targeted.

Many of them had been killed, a rebel fighter told me.

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