NATO expects hit and run tactics by Gaddafi

By David Brunnstrom

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Muammar Gaddafi shows no sign of giving up the military struggle in Libya and is expected to resort to “hit-and-run” tactics after strikes to destroy his heavy weaponry, NATO said on Tuesday.

Brigadier-General Mark van Uhm, of NATO’s military staff, said the alliance had been flying an average of 155 air sorties daily in the past week, concentrating on preventing Gaddafi’s forces from using heavy weapons in civilian areas.

“We know we are having an effect,” Uhm told a news briefing.

“Pro-Gaddafi forces cannot fight where they want, they cannot fight how they want, and they cannot use the weapons they want. Nothing indicates, however, that Gaddafi has any intention of disengaging from operations.”

Uhm said NATO expected instead to see a change in tactics.

“Because his heavy weapons systems have been hit hard over the last few days, we expect pro-regime forces to favor hit-and-run tactics by motorized columns of pickup trucks to wear out opposition forces psychologically rather than gain ground,” he said.

Uhm said the military situation was “dynamic, fluid and changing constantly.”

While opposition forces had retaken control of Ajdabiyah on Monday, two days after being driven to the northern edge of the city, Misrata in the west was still under pressure.

While Gaddafi’s forces had withdrawn heavy weapons from some of the city’s neighborhoods, they had continued shelling and they had also attacked several areas in the Zintan region southwest of Tripoli.


“While NATO attention is focused on destroying heavy military equipment posing the biggest threat to civilians, air strikes are also hitting ammunition bunkers and lines of communications to cut off these forces from their supplies,” Uhm said.

Gaddafi forces had withdrawn from Ajdabiyah toward Brega and deployed their lead elements east of the city, while rebel forces had deployed elements southwest of Ajdabiyah.

“So the confrontation line is once again between Ajdabiyah and Brega,” he said.

Van Uhm responded to criticism by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who said NATO was not doing enough in Libya, by saying that the alliance had been conducting operations at “a very high operational tempo” in the past few days.

“With the assets we have, we are doing a great job and we fulfill our mission, so it’s hard for us to say we need more.”

“When you look at the mission, the arms embargo is in effect, the no-fly zone is effective. We are protecting the civilians. So we are executing our mission.”

Van Uhm conceded the alliance could do more with more aircraft, but said it was for members of the 28-nation alliance to decide what resources they were willing to provide.

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance was effectively enforcing its U.N. mandate. “We have 200 planes. Right now we can do operations at a very high tempo using the assets we have at our disposal.”

Van Uhm said NATO had flown more than 1,900 sorties since taking over the Libya operations on March 31, about 800 of which were strike missions.

NATO expects hit and run tactics by Gaddafi