Libyan rebels in Misurata told AFP that small prop-driven airplanes (possibly used for aerial insecticide spray on farms) dropped bombs on oil tanks. UPDATE: A more recent report claimed the air strikes were conducted by helicopters or possibly a recon helicopter directing rocket artillery fire.
From the AFP report (initial report):
Libyan government forces dropped bombs on four large oil storage tanks in the contested western city of Misrata, destroying the tanks and sparking a fire that spread to four more, a rebel spokesman said on Saturday. Government forces used small planes normally used to spray pesticides for the overnight attack in Qasr Ahmed close to the port…
A rebel spokesman added:
“Four tanks were totally destroyed and huge fire erupted which spread now to the other four. We cannot extinguish it because we do not have the right tools,” he said.
“Now the city will face a major problem. Those were the only source of fuel for the city. These tanks could have kept the city for three months with enough fuel”…
UPDATED Report: Here.
The Libyan rebels say they informed NATO that the aircraft were attacking and NATO did not respond. Small aircraft are are difficult to detect on radar and, if they fly low, difficult for interceptor aircraft to track. For example, in 1987 a small single-engine aircraft flew from Finland into Russia, evaded Russian radar and landed near Red Square. The small aircraft do not need air bases, and based on reports from NATO, all major air fields used by Gadhafi loyalists have been suppressed. The small planes, however, can operate from paved roads or open fields. Helicopters have the same capabilities and create the same types of problems. (Note the update claims that the helicopters allegedly had Red Crescent markings.)
Gadhafi continues to concentrate on Misurata. In a Tatler post on April 29, I argued that at the moment Misurata is Gadhafi’s main effort. The city has proved to be very resilient. The dictator’s ground forces, however, are still shelling the city. Yet the rebels continue to resist and resist effectively.
The siege of Misurata is a stalemate Gadhafi cannot afford. The Turkish government has called for him to quit power and leave Libya. To break the city’s resistance he knows he must stop food, medicine, and –my guess– military supplies from reaching its rebels defenders. His forces have tried to mine Misurata’s harbor. That attempt appears to have been frustrated, hence the air strikes with a jury-rigged air force. Destroying the city’s fuel tanks does increase the city’s woes. The best response, politically and militarily? NATO and coalition leaders should send a very large sea supply convoy to the city protected by strong naval forces. Gadhafi’s gnats have struck; surprise aided their mission– whether they were small fixed wing aircraft or helicopters. NATO operations officers are now wise to the trick and targeting teams will be examining every intelligence source (image, electronic, HUMINT, etc) for information on the aircraft. Needles in haystacks are hard to find, but even small aircraft and helicopters must be maintained and refueled. As for point defense of Libyan civilian targets against air strikes: this is another reason NATO and its coalition allies should deploy special operations forces armed with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
Gadhafi’s forces are also attacking Berber rebels on the south-western front. The fight for the Dehiba (Tunisia) and Wazin (Libya) corridor continues. Tunisia reported four artillery rounds fired by Gadhafi’s forces landed in Tunisia.