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Libyans Brave Heavy Shelling for Food, Fuel

April 26, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST


MARGARET WARNER: Next, the Libya story, some high-level talks between Britain and the U.S., as that conflict rages on.

Smoke rose from the port supplying Misrata today, under heavy shelling by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. In the besieged city itself, Libyans braved the fighting to line up for scarce food and fuel.

AHMED SUILEMAN (through translator): We have to make sacrifices. We are paying with our souls and with our blood.

MARGARET WARNER: Elsewhere, dramatic footage showed rebel fighters battling Gadhafi forces near the far western village of al-Majabira. And in the east, rebels in Ajdabiya stood guard against government troops in Brega, just 37 miles away.

As the fighting dragged on, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox arrived in Washington to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Afterwards, Fox said there were reasons for optimism.

DR. LIAM FOX, British defense secretary: In Libya, we discussed how the situation is progressing. We have seen some momentum gained in the last few days. We have seen some progress made in Misrata. And it’s very clear that the regime is on the back foot. The sooner that Colonel Gadhafi recognizes that the game is up, either today or shortly, the better.

MARGARET WARNER: Fox’s visit comes in the sixth week of an allied bombing campaign under a U.N. mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

From the beginning, the British and French pushed for active intervention. British Prime Minister David Cameron was first to propose a no-fly zone in Libya in late February.

DAVID CAMERON, British prime minister: It is not acceptable to have a situation where Col. Gadhafi can be murdering his own people, using airplanes and helicopter gunships and the like. And we have to plan now to make sure, if that happens, we can do something to stop it.

MARGARET WARNER: After the U.S. took out Gadhafi’s air defenses in the first week, the British and French took the lead in the NATO-run airstrike campaign to protect civilians. The U.S. scaled back to a support role, flying a quarter of those missions.

Britain and France also have taken the lead in sending military trainers to assist the rebels. But late last week, Defense Secretary Gates announced that two armed U.S. Predator drones would join the NATO effort. Now, with growing fears of a stalemate, NATO has intensified attacks on Gadhafi’s power structure, as well as troops. On Sunday airstrikes flattened part of his compound in Tripoli.

Secretary Gates said today, that’s entirely consistent with NATO’s mission.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Well, I would say we have considered all along command-and-control centers to be a legitimate target.