(Associated Press / Yahoo News) - BENGHAZI, Libya – U.S. Sen. John McCain called for increased military support for Libya's rebels Friday, including weapons, training and stepped-up airstrikes, in a full-throated endorsement of the opposition in its fight to oust Moammar Gadhafi.
|AP – U.S. Sen. John McCain, backdropped |
with a pre-Gadhafi flag, talks during a press
conference in Benghazi,
In the Libyan capital, meanwhile, a senior official said government troops would step back and allow local armed tribesmen to deal with rebels in the besieged city of Misrata.
The action came a day after the U.S. began flying armed drones to bolster NATO airstrikes, and having the tribesmen take up the fight could make it harder for the Predators to distinguish them from Misrata's civilians or the rebels.
Early Saturday, loud booms were heard in Tripoli, apparently from NATO airstrikes.
Reporters were taken to an unpaved plot next to Gadhafi's sprawling Bab Aziziyeh residential compound in Tripoli. They were shown two craters, apparently from missiles that had pierced through thick layers of reinforced concrete, laying bare what looked like a bunker system. Eight narrow military-issue metal crates were stacked next to one of the craters.
About two dozen Gadhafi supporters arrived at the scene, waving green flags in support of the Libyan leader.
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the United States and other nations should recognize the opposition's political leadership as the "legitimate voice of the Libyan people." The White House disagreed, saying it was for the Libyan people to decide who their leaders are.
McCain also called the rebels "patriots" with no links to al-Qaida, in contrast to what some critics have suggested, and added they should receive Gadhafi assets that were frozen by other countries.
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said in Iraq that although the timing was hard to predict, the eventual ouster of Gadhafi and his family from power "is certain."
Rebels in the western city of Misrata raised their tricolor flag atop an eight-story building in celebration after driving pro-government snipers out of the structure Thursday. The battle-scarred building commands a strategic view of the central part of Libya's third-largest city and the key main thoroughfare of Tripoli Street. The snipers had terrorized residents and pinned down rebel fighters.
As a result, the number of civilian casualties dropped dramatically Friday for the first time in several weeks, said one rebel who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.
"Spirits are high but the military situation is still unknown," he said. "The rebels easily entered yesterday, so it was clear that the Gadhafi forces quickly withdrew."
Although there was less fear about snipers, fighting was still taking place near Misrata's central hospital and the vegetable market, a rebel said.