Battle For Misrata Grows Deadlier

Originally published on April 23, 2011 9:58 am
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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We turn now to Libya where the Pentagon says the U.S. force has carried out its first Predator missile strike two days after President Obama authorized it. We don't know yet the location of the strike. The Pentagon is not providing details.

We're joined now by Charles Levinson who writes for the Wall Street Journal. He is one of the few Western journalists remaining in that besieged western port city of Misrata. Mr. Levinson, thanks for being with us.

Mr. CHARLES LEVINSON (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): My pleasure.

SIMON: Have you seen or heard any evidence of the strikes?

Mr. LEVINSON: We haven't seen or heard reports of any drone strike, but we wouldn't necessarily expect to, either. There's a good chance that if it would have occurred, it would have occurred in and around Misrata, it would have occurred perhaps outside the city on the approaches, on the Gadhafi positions outside the city.

SIMON: Well, what is life like in Misrata today?

Mr. LEVINSON: Up until about three in the afternoon it was an extremely bloody day. Real fierce shelling. Constant flow of wounded and dead into the hospital. They have 23 dead so far, which is one of the heaviest days in recent weeks. They had to expand the parking lot emergency room into a second tent to handle the large numbers of wounded coming into the hospital.

But now things have quieted down. We're not sure if the quiet is just one of the periodic pauses that we see everyday here in the fighting, or whether the rebel gains in recent days mean, you know, we are at some sort of tipping point in the battle. But now, just now I heard a massive explosion in the background, so it's obviously not all quiet.

We also hear reports that we haven't been able to confirm yet that Gadhafi's soldiers have sort of pulled back and concentrated in one building on the outskirts of town. What that means we're not sure yet.

SIMON: It's also been reported that the Libyan government said that they were going to pull some of its forces from Misrata and ask tribal groups to come in and try and crush the rebels. Any evidence of that?

Mr. LEVINSON: No. Not yet. And there's certainly a lot of skepticism in anything that's said by Gadhafi government. People here don't put a lot of stock in it. And, you know, as he made the announcement the really heavy bombardment was underway. So, the facts on the ground didn't jive with that, but it's still too early to tell for sure.

SIMON: Of course a lot of people this week heard about the death of two photojournalists in Misrata and in his last Twitter message, Tim Hetherington said, indiscriminate shelling by Gadhafi forces, no sign of NATO. Do you see much sign of NATO today?

Mr. LEVINSON: Today we haven't seen any signs of NATO, and we don't usually see signs of NATO, for that matter. We hear planes in the skies occasionally and hear second and third reports that there were airstrikes outside the city, but we can't get outside the city to confirm that. And so it's hard to know for sure the scope of those airstrikes.

SIMON: Charles Levinson, Wall Street Journal reporter joined us from Misrata, Libya. Thanks so much.

Mr. LEVINSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.