TRIPOLI, Libya – NATO warplanes bombarded targets in Tripoli with more than 20 airstrikes early today, striking around Moammar Gadhafi’s residential compound in what appeared to be the heaviest night of bombing of the Libyan capital since the Western alliance launched its air campaign against his forces.
The rapid string of strikes, all within less than half an hour, set off thunderous booms that rattled windows, sent heavy, acrid-smelling plumes of smoke over the city, including from an area close to Gadhafi’s sprawling Bab al-Aziziya compound.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said at least three people were killed and dozens wounded in NATO strikes that targeted what he described as buildings used by volunteer units of the Libyan army.
NATO said in a statement that a number of the strikes hit a vehicle storage facility adjacent to Bab al-Aziziya that has been used in supplying regime forces “conducting attacks on civilians.” It was not immediately clear if the facility was the only target hit in the barrage. Bab al-Aziziya, which includes a number of military facilities, has been pounded repeatedly by NATO strikes.
Observers described the bombing as the heaviest attack on the Libyan capital since NATO began its air campaign on March 19 after the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution to protect civilians after Gadhafi responded to the public uprising against his rule by unleashing his military and his militias.
NATO, which said in its statement that it took care to “minimize the risk of collateral damage to the fullest extent possible,” has been escalating and widening the scope of its strikes over the past weeks, hiking the pressure on Gadhafi, while the alliance’s members have built closer ties with the rebel movement that has control of the eastern half of Libya. On Monday, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, Jeffrey Feltman, was in the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi in a show of support.
In a significant new deployment of firepower, France and Britain are bringing attack helicopters to use in the strikes in Libya as soon as possible, French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said Monday.