ABC News is reporting that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi launched a single-engine military aircraft called a "galeb" over the western city of Misrata on Thursday, which French fighter jets promptly shot down.
Coalition officials claimed yesterday that they had largely immobilized Qaddafi's air defenses and air force, and were now directing air strikes at the regime's ground forces, tanks, and artillery, which are assaulting a number of rebel-held towns.
So far, it appears coalition forces have yet to achieve on the ground what they say they've achieved in the air; Qaddafi's tanks have renewed their shelling of Misrata--particularly the area near the main hospital--as snipers on rooftops continue to fire at people, Reuters reports. Qaddafi's forces are also reportedly assaulting Zintan in the east and Ajdabiyah in the west, though the Libyan government denies that the military is launching offensive campaigns. The New York Times described Qaddafi's tactics in Misrata as a "cat-and-mouse" game. When the threat of allied air power diminishes, Qaddafi's tanks roll into the city. When Western warplanes return, the tanks restreat.
News outlets are relying on reports from rebels and residents in Misrata, since journalists are banned from the city. In a news conference on Thursday, Libyan officials acknowledged for the first time that water, electricity, and telecommunications in Misrata had been cut off, but they blamed technical problems and said the rebels were preventing the government from entering the city and making repairs, the Times says.
On Thursday, Reuters reports, Libyan officials took journalists to a Tripoli hospital to show them the remains of what they claimed were 18 military personnel and civilians killed by Western warplanes and missiles. Coalition officials maintain that their air strikes haven't killed civilians.
As the U.N.-authorized military intervention in Libya enters its sixth day, NATO has yet to agree on whether it will take over command of operations in Libya when the U.S. cedes control, primarily due to Turkey's opposition to coalition air strikes. France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said on Thursday that the coalition could destroy Qaddafi's military capacity in "a matter of days or weeks, certainly not months.”
The BBC's John Simpson claims that pro-Qaddafi officials are growing more confident that Qaddafi will emerge from the international community's military campaign still in control of at least western Libya. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently suggested that some officials in Qaddafi's inner circle were exploring ways to abandon the embattled ruler.
12:55 pm - The French military has confirmed that a French warplane destroyed a Libyan military aircraft with an air-to-ground missile as it landed at Misrata air base in violation of the no-fly zone.