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U.S. Launches First Predator Strike As Misrata Siege Lifts

U.S. Launches First Predator Strike As Misrata Siege Lifts

The U.S. launched its first Predator missile attack in Libya, as rebels said forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi had withdrawn from the besieged city of Misrata.

The strike occurred today in the early afternoon local time, the Pentagon said in an e-mailed statement, without providing further details. U.S. President Barack Obama last week approved the use of Predator drones, made by closely held General Atomics of San Diego, to support the insurgents.

NATO forces have carried out air strikes over the capital, Tripoli, making two hits early today on a concrete bunker near Qaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia compound. Three people died in the attacks, Al Arabiya reported. Loyalist troops yesterday withdrew from nearby Misrata, the main rebel-held city in western Libya, Al Jazeera television said, citing rebel fighters. Qaddafi’s forces today shelled the city of Yefren, also in western Libya, Al Arabiya reported.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is leading a UN- sanctioned mission to police a no-fly zone, protect civilians and enforce an arms embargo against Qaddafi’s government. France, Italy and the U.K. have sent military advisers to the rebels. The U.S. has said it would provide $25 million in non-lethal aid, such as radios and body armor, to Libya’s rebels, who have been battling for control of cities since the uprising began in mid-February.

Fighting has halted most oil exports from Libya, home to Africa’s biggest oil reserves. Oil prices are up more than 30 percent from a year ago. Crude oil for June delivery rose 84 cents to settle at $112.29 a barrel on April 21 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Markets were closed yesterday for the Good Friday holiday.

‘Traders and Speculators’

Obama said April 21 that his Justice Department would investigate whether “traders and speculators” in oil markets deserve any blame for the high prices.

U.S. Senator John McCain visited Libya yesterday in a show of support for insurgents trying to overthrow Qaddafi.

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday went to Benghazi, the center of the uprising. McCain called on the U.S. government to recognize the rebel Transitional National Council as the country’s government and provide financial assistance and more military aid to the insurgents.

Libyan fighters seeking to oust Qaddafi are “patriots who want to liberate their nation,” McCain said during his visit. “They are not al-Qaeda.”

“Maybe we should be doing everything we can to help these people,” McCain, 74, of Arizona, said on Al Jazeera following a visit to a hospital. “And maybe we’re not, and they’re dying.”

White House Response

White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to McCain’s call to recognize the council by saying the Obama administration has determined that “it’s for the people of Libya to decide who the head of their country is, not for the United States to do that.”

Carney told reporters yesterday that that the administration knew about McCain’s trip and that the senator wasn’t carrying any messages from the administration.

The U.S. rules out supplying arms to the rebels for now, ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capitol with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.

“With the weapons that they have, the rebels are holding on,” Rice said, referring to firefights in Misrata. “It is natural and to be expected that it is going to take some time for them to be constituted into an effective fighting force.”

(Updates with death toll, Yefren in third paragraph.)