Government troops retreated to the outskirts of Misrata under rebel fire yesterday and the opposition claimed victory after officials in Tripoli decided to pull back forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi following nearly two months of laying siege to the western city.
Meanwhile, the US air force carried out its first Predator drone strike in Libya yesterday, but gave no details. The only reported airstrike was a hit near Mr Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli that the government said caused no injuries. Opposition forces in Libya's third-largest city had held firm after being pounded by the government's heavy weapons for weeks. But late on Friday, a top Libyan official said troops would be withdrawn and local tribes would take up the fight – an idea scoffed at by rebels.
For now, however, most of the city of 300,000 people is calm, with rebel forces taking over several key buildings that had been filled with government soldiers, including snipers. An eight-storey insurance building – pockmarked by shells and scorched around the windows – had been used by snipers because it commanded a view of the city. The only fighting yesterday was on the eastern outskirts of the city, where about 150 pro-Gaddafi soldiers trying to withdraw were fighting rebels, he said, adding that ambulances were picking up the dead and injured.
In Tripoli, two missiles apparently fired by Nato warplanes struck near Mr Gaddafi's sprawling compound in the early hours of the morning, causing no injuries. Reporters were taken to an unpaved plot next to the Bab Aziziyeh compound and shown two craters, apparently from the missiles that had pierced through thick layers of reinforced concrete, laying bare what looked like a bunker system. Libyan officials said the space was a parking lot but olive-coloured metal boxes near the crater suggested it was being used for military activities. It was not clear if the site was hit by missiles from a Predator.
Data released by Nato yesterday shows that, since 31 March, a total of 3,438 sorties have been flown, 1,432 of which have involved strikes.
On Thursday, the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said President Barack Obama had approved the use of armed Predator drones to improve the precision of strikes on Libyan government forces.