As Libyan rebels close in on the capital Tripoli, and the US Defence Secretary said the sense is that Gaddafi’s days are numbered, his forces have fired a Scud missile.
It was the first time such a longer range rocket – an obsolete Soviet-era weapon – had been deployed in the six-month civil war. It landed in the desert and caused no damage or casualties.
The rocket was fired from near Sirte, Gaddafi’s now isolated home town, 500 kilometres east of Tripoli. The apparent target was the rebel-held town of Brega but it fell short by five kilometres.
NATO said it shows the government in Tripoli is “desperate”.
NATO spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie told reporters: “The Gaddafi regime does not have anymore an effective operational capability. He could certainly ‘throw the dishes against the wall to make a bit of noise’ but we do not believe that he could generate a significant operational effect.”
NATO, which is conducting air strikes in Libya under a United Nations mandate calling for military action to protect civilians in the conflict, confirmed it had previously destroyed Scud missiles and their launchers on the ground.
At the same time, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said “Gaddafi’s forces are weakened” and his days are numbered.
Speaking about reports that a senior figure in the Libyan security apparatus had flown to Egypt with his family, Panetta said “This latest defection is another example of how weak they’ve gotten.”
Despite reports to the contrary, Libya’s rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), denied any kind of negotiation with Gaddafi to resolve the conflict.
“The NTC would like to affirm that there are no negotiations either direct or indirect with the Gaddafi regime or with the special envoy of the United Nations,” said NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
Gaddafi must step down and leave Libya, he said. “It is unthinkable to hold any negotiations or talks that disregard this basic principle.”