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Coalition Airstrikes Help Some Libyans Flee Fighting for First Time

March 25, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
The battle in Libya turned to a key eastern city as coalition warplanes bombed Moammar Gadhafi's forces, who attempted to wrestle the city from rebel control. Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports on the day's events.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In Libya today, the struggle turned to a key city in the east. Overnight, British and French warplanes blasted government forces outside Ajdabiya. The attacks gave new hope to rebels hoping to break the siege of the city.

We have a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Pausing to pray, Libyan rebels on the front line. A few miles to the west, they’re trying to take advantage of the British and French overnight bombing of Col. Gadhafi’s forces around Ajdabiya.

They watch for more airstrikes. This could be their moment to push Gadhafi’s forces back. The fighting is going on down the road. Col. Gadhafi’s forces aren’t giving up. The coalition airstrikes give the rebels their best chance of retaking the town of Ajdabiya.

One man just said to me: “I used to dread the sound of airplanes overhead. Now I love it.”

The Ministry of Defense released video of precision-guided Brimstone missiles. They were targeting the Gadhafi forces’ defensive line around Ajdabiya. The coalition don’t want to bomb inside the town, for fear of killing civilians. Some who were leaving the town said last night’s attacks had an immediate impact.

ABDULLAH AL SOOL, businessman: Gadhafi’s army starts to leave their places in the west side because the planes start to hit them.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The airstrikes have suddenly opened up corridors, enabling people to flee. This family said they’d been trapped in Ajdabiya for 25 days, running from house to house. Only now can they get out.

MAN: No water.

LINDSEY HILSUM: No water?

MAN: No light, no…

LINDSEY HILSUM: No light?

MAN: No light.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Very difficult.

MAN: (SPEAKING ARABIC)

LINDSEY HILSUM: God, he said, was their only hope.

Some told me that Gadhafi’s soldiers are taking off their uniforms, but keeping their weapons.

BASHAR HAMAD, civil servant (through translator): From yesterday until now, they’re shooting indiscriminately. When someone comes to rescue the injured, they fire with snipers. That’s what is happening in Ajdabiya.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The rebels have rockets and some heavy weapons, but they say they need more. The danger for them is that Western politicians and publics may lose patience. Success may depend on Col. Gadhafi’s troops deserting and his political support collapsing, rather than any rebel advance.

JIM LEHRER: Late today, Al-Jazeera television reported rebel fighters had entered the eastern half of the city.

In other developments, NATO said it will take over enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya by Monday. And President Obama spoke with U.S. congressional leaders about the operation. A spokesman said the president will update the public in the very near future.