Muammar Qaddafi's forces are attacking rebel positions in Ajdabiya in the east and Misrata in the west as the regime promises an imminent and decisive attack on opposition headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi.
The rebels, meanwhile, are ratcheting up their criticism of the international community for not imposing a no-fly zone to ground the Libyan Air Force, whose aerial assaults have proven pivotal in swinging momentum back to Qaddafi. One opposition leader told the Associated Press that Qaddafi is "exploiting delays by international community" while another told the BBC that, in the absence of international intervention, Qaddafi "will kill civilians, he will kill dreams, he will destroy us."
The U.N. Security Council has not yet voted on a no-fly zone resolution that's supported by the U.K., France, and Lebanon but opposed by Russia, Germany, and China, with the U.S. somewhere in the middle. France's foreign minister did say on Wednesday that several unspecified Arab countries have agreed to participate in a military action in Libya. But even if regional support paves the way for a no-fly zone, would the consensus come too late?
Perhaps, suggest David D. Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid at The New York Times. A U.S. official tells them that given Qaddafi's advances, "there is growing consensus in the Obama administration that imposing a no-flight zone over Libya would no longer make much of a difference," especially since mobilizing the ships and planes necessary for such a measure would take until April--"too late to help rebels hunkered down in Benghazi." President Obama is considering other options like financing rebel forces with frozen Libyan assets or launching airstrikes against Qaddafi's tanks and heavy artillery, Kirkpatrick and Shadid explain, but these actions are unlikely to be carried out.
Time's Mark Thompson agrees, arguing that Qaddafi's recent military successes ensure that all "a no-fly zone can do now is preserve the status quo, which favors him and his loyalists."
And the clock does does appear to be ticking. In an interview with the U.K.'s Channel 4 News, Qaddafi's son, Saif, claimed that, no-fly zone or not, government forces would root out the "dark forces" in eastern Libya within two days. In a separate interview, he urged the rebels to leave the country: "We don't want to kill, we don't want revenge, but you, traitors, mercenaries, you have committed crimes against the Libyan people: leave, go in peace to Egypt."
Yet there are signs that the Qaddafi regime's pronouncements may only be calculated bluster intended to rattle the opposition. "Even if Ajdabiya falls," the BBC explains, "the government does not seem to have enough troops in the field to attack Benghazi, a city of one million people." And while rebels in Benghazi don't appear to be preparing substantial defenses just yet, a rebel spokesman told the AP that a large portion of the population is armed. "Can Qaddafi bomb the city? Sure he can. Can he go in? I don't think so," he said.
Here's a clip of Saif's interview with Channel 4 News: