Battle of Misrata

Battle of Misrata
Battle of Misrata
Part of the 2011 Libyan civil war
Battle of Misrata.svg
Changes in frontlines during the Battle of Misrata
Date 18 February – 15 May 2011
Location Misrata, Libya
Result Decisive Anti-Gaddafi victory
  • Rebels retake full control of the city center, main road, airport and the south, southwestern and southeastern parts of the town after they were under loyalist control from March to May
  • Port reopens after it was was partially closed due to artillery fire and mines from 29 April to 9 May
  • All of the city's public utilities shut down
  • Rebels advance to Dafniya, west of Misrata, and the outskirts of Taworgha, south of Misrata
Libya Anti-Gaddafi forces

United Nations UNSC Resolution 1973 forces[2]

Libya Gaddafi Loyalists
Commanders and leaders
Libya Ibrahim Bet-Almal[7]
Libya Nuri Abdullah Abdullati[8]
Libya Salah Badi[9]
Libya Ali Attalah Obeidi [10]
Libya Khamis Gaddafi (from 12 March)
Libya Abdul Nabih Zayid[11]
Libya Albarrani Shkal[12]
3,000-5,000[13] Hamza Brigade (initially)[14]
Khamis Brigade (since 12 March)[15]
Casualties and losses
813[16]-1,083[17] killed*
781[16]-900[18] missing or captured**
4,000 wounded[19]
at least 1 tank destroyed[20]
358[21]-545[22] killed
150[23]-230[21] captured
20 T-72 tanks, 4 T-55 tanks, 2 BMPs, 1 Shilka, 3 APCs and 1 IMR-2 destroyed, 1 helicopter shot down

32-44 tanks destroyed or damaged, 1 Shilka, 1 mobile MRL, 6 Soko G-2 Galeb aircraft, 2 Mi-35 attack helicopters and 1 MFPB destroyed and 1 coast guard vessel and 1 MFPB damaged by Coalition forces (UN/NATO claim)[24][25][26][27][28]

*The number of dead on the rebel side includes both opposition fighters and civilians, of which 358 have definitely been confirmed as rebels[29] and 707 as civilians,[30] among whom were 11 migrants,[31] 2 journalists (1 U.S. & U.K.-U.S.)[32] and 1 Ukrainian doctor[33]
**Of the missing and captured, 150 civilians were found dead in a mass grave in Tawargha in mid-August[34] and 5 in a grave near Misrata in early October[35]
Destroyed loyalist BMP in Misrata

The Battle of Misrata (Arabic: معركة مصراتة‎) was a battle of the 2011 Libyan civil war between pro-Gaddafi loyalists and anti-Gaddafi forces, which held Misrata, the third largest city in Libya. Following the initial stages of the uprising, the Libyan government took back most towns in the west of the country, leaving Misrata the only major city under rebel control in Tripolitania, aside from several locations in the Nafusa Mountains. The city soon became the site of one of the major and most symbolic battles of the war that has been often compared to the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II. During the siege, the city saw intense fighting and came under daily assaults and shelling. Following the beginning of the UN military intervention in the civil war, NATO declared that breaking the encirclement of the city was its top priority. It ranks as one of the longest and bloodiest battle of the entire war. In late April and early May, rebel counterattacks successfully retook the city, culminating in the fall of the airport and nearby military airbase on 11 May.


The battle

Rebels capture the city and the air base battle

18–26 February

Small demonstrations of a few dozen people against the Government apparently took place on 17 February and protesters were arrested.[36] The arrests triggered larger protests with the Government forces opening fire on demonstrators.[36] However, other reports indicate that they started on 19 February.[37][38] In any case, the battle for the city started with violent confrontations between pro-Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi forces. By 23 February, the opposition drove out loyalist forces from the city and were in full control. 6-14 protestors were killed in the clashes and another 200 were wounded.[39][40]

On 24 February, Gaddafi loyalists armed with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars fired at a group of opposition fighters guarding the airport. During the fighting, the airport's defenders seized a ZPU-4 anti-aircraft gun used by the militias and turned it against them. When the battle started, officers from an air force school near the airport mutinied and helped the opposition attack an adjacent military air base where Gaddafi's troops were stationed. The officers then disabled fighter jets at the base to prevent them from being used against the uprising.[41]

On the evening of the second day of the battle, Gaddafi's forces, supported by tanks, succeeded in retaking part of the military air base. Fighting at the base continued until after midnight, leaving 22 dead.[42] At least one loyalist tank was destroyed during the two days of fighting at the airport.[43]

28 February

On 28 February, it was reported that opposition forces shot down a government helicopter which was attacking the rebel-held radio station. The crew of the helicopter was captured by rebel forces.[44] Also, there was a new attempt by government troops to advance at the air base but it was repelled by the opposition. No casualties occurred during the fighting, except that, eight loyalist soldiers were captured.[45]

3 March

On 3 March, two Libyan Red Crescent medics were wounded by loyalist fire while trying to retrieve the body of a man killed near a government base three days earlier.[46] By this point, it was reported that the rebels were running low on food and ammunition.[47] Also, government troops had succeeded in securing the air base and the military air academy on the outskirts of Misrata.

Rebel ambush in the city center

6 March

On 6 March, pro-Gaddafi forces attempted to retake Misrata, and sent soldiers and tanks into the city. The rebels allowed the government forces to enter the center of the city so that they could be surrounded and captured. Seven tanks and 25 technicals entered Misrata and three tanks made it all the way to the center before the fighting began and they became trapped.[48] According to local witnesses, the rebels fended off the attack on Misrata by Gaddafi's forces. 21[49] rebels and civilians were killed, including a 3-year-old boy. 22 of Gaddafi's soldiers were killed, and another 20 captured.[50][51]

Khamis Brigade arrives and inter-loyalist fighting

12–13 March

On 12 March, a new government attack was underway and loyalist forces were reported to be 10-15 kilometers from the city center.[52] The attack was led by the Khamis Brigade, which had just won the first battle for Zawiya two days earlier, but their advance quickly came to a stop as a group of attacking soldiers mutinied and defected. 32 soldiers, one of them reportedly a general, broke off from the rest of the force and joined the rebels in the city.[15]

The next day, government tanks were still advancing, fighting rebels on the outskirts of the city. Tank shells had struck inside the city, hitting a mosque and an apartment building.[53]

Artillery and tank attacks

16–18 March

On 16 March, a new artillery attack on Misrata commenced and another round of fighting started. The rebels claimed to have destroyed 16 loyalist tanks and captured 20 government soldiers. However, this was not independently confirmed.[54] 18 opposition members were killed and 20 wounded during the clashes. Doctors in Misrata reported that 60-80 government soldiers had been killed in fighting that day.[55][56]

On the night of 17 March, government troops started an artillery and tank attack on Misrata. The attack continued well into the next day. During 18 March, a cease-fire was announced by the government, following the United Nations Security council resolution on authorisation for military intervention by foreign countries. However, the attack on Misrata continued for at least another four hours. It was not known if this was deliberate or the orders had not gotten to the troops on the ground in the city yet. By the time the cease-fire was ordered, government troops had already breached the rebel defences on the outskirts of the city and were in Misrata itself with tanks firing randomly and troops conducting house-to-house searches to capture opposition fighters, according to the rebels.[57] Video from the city itself showed damaged streets, following heavy fighting, with at least four destroyed tanks and two armored personnel carriers.[58][59]

City is breached and continued fighting

19–22 March

On 19 March, loyalist sniper and artillery fire in the morning left nine dead in the city. Seven of those were killed due to shelling.[60] That day, Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from both US and British ships and submarines struck a pro-Gaddafi air base and military academy outside the city, causing an undetermined amount of damage.[6]

On 20 March, Gaddafi's armour drove into the city center, and heavy fighting continued throughout the day. Four loyalist tanks were seen patrolling the city.[61]

On 21 March, 40 people were reportedly killed and 300 wounded by gunfire and artillery shelling by loyalist forces attempting to clear the city of opposition forces. By this point, the city's main road, called Tripoli Street, had been secured by government troops with 200 soldiers and three tanks.[62] Tripoli Street leads from the highway at the southwest edge of the city to the center of the city. The center of the city was also cleared of rebel forces where, during the day, unarmed rebel supporters tried to confront government troops by trying to organise a demonstration but were fired upon by snipers, tanks and artillery as soon as they approached.[63][64][65] That night, a government spokesperson stated that the city was under control of forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. There was no independent confirmation and an opposition spokesperson in Misrata denied this.[66][67] Video from fighting during the previous days showed six destroyed government tanks.[68]

On 22 March, artillery shelling and sniper fire in Misrata continued. In the earlier hours of the day, five people, including four children, were killed by an artillery round after they tried leaving their home. Gaddafi's forces concentrated around an abandoned hospital which they used as a base.[69] Overnight, Gaddafi's forces managed to capture the main hospital in Misrata, and positioned snipers on top of it. The opposition requested a hospital ship to be sent to Misrata's port, the only part of the city still in firm rebel control, to treat the injured, as the injured no longer had a place to go.[70]

Coalition air-strikes and tanks continue to advance

23–29 March

In the early hours of 23 March, coalition forces began launching air-strikes against pro-Gaddafi forces within the city itself. Two air-strikes were launched according to witnesses. Gaddafi's forces stopped artillery shelling and bombarding the city after the air-strikes.[70] Opposition members claimed that the strikes destroyed numerous loyalist tanks near the captured hospital and on the outskirts of the city.[71] However, the next day witnesses from within the city confirmed that only the tanks on the outskirts were bombed, the damage being unknown, while those in the city were not hit at all.[72]

Gaddafi's forces left the main hospital for some time before they came back in the evening, with tanks and artillery weapons, and began attacking and bombarding the surrounding area for 40 minutes. Troops were said to be advancing on the hospital where most of the opposition wounded were being treated.[73] That night, the regime sent warships to Misrata and captured its port.[72][74][75]

The next day, there were conflicting reports, with rebels and doctors claiming that the warships retreated from the port, re-securing the port for the rebels. However, this hadn't been independently confirmed.[76] The same day, a Libyan Air Force Soko G-2 Galeb was destroyed by French fighter jets at Misrata. Later that day, a French armed forces spokesman confirmed that the plane was destroyed at the air base with an AASM air-to-ground missile just after it had landed.[4][5][77] Rebels in Misrata also claimed to have killed 30 pro-Gaddafi snipers, and to have managed to reach the town center.[78][79]

On 25 March, more shelling hit the city and in the evening 10-12 loyalist tanks appeared on Tripoli Street. They were hitting rebel positions before retreating to avoid Coalition planes. There was also confusion over whether the port was being blocked by loyalist ships, or whether it had been recaptured by the rebels.[80]

On 26 March, Gaddafi's forces launched a massive attack on Misrata, sending in more foreign mercenaries and bombarding the city with mortar shells and tanks. Witnesses described the situation as "very very dire".[81] As during previous days, when coalition planes started appearing over the skies of Misrata artillery and mortar shelling on the city stopped and the tanks pulled back to cover.[82] The French MoD claimed that their fighters destroyed five G-2 Galeb ground attack jets and two Mi-35 attack helicopters at the Misrata airbase while they were preparing to take part in offensive operations against rebels in the city.[83]

Gaddafi's forces resumed the artillery, mortar, and tank shelling of the city the next day on 27 March.[84][85] Nine people were killed and 23 wounded as loyalist troops fired mortars while advancing towards the city from the west.[86][87] In the evening, like previous times, the fighting had stopped so loyalist forces could avoid coalition air-strikes.[88]

On 28 March, at noon local time, Gaddafi's forces began bombarding the city again.[89] After the bombardment stopped, a rebel source confirmed that loyalist troops gained control of a part of the city, effectively dividing Misrata into a government-held part and a rebel-held part.[90] During the fighting, rebels damaged two loyalist tanks.[89] Just before evening, international journalists were brought from Tripoli who confirmed that Misrata's suburbs, including Tripoli Street, were under government control. A military officer stated that there were still about 100 rebels left and the fighting was concentrated around the center of the town.[91] CNN's Nic Robertson reported that the streets of Misrata were largely empty except for about 100 pro-Gaddafi supporters demonstrating and a strong military presence.[92] Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught said that the furthest in Misrata that she and the other international journalists were taken to was the south side of Tripoli Street, one and a half miles from the city's center, from where gunfire could be heard.[89] The British Ministry of Defense claimed that their planes hit and destroyed two loyalist tanks and two armored vehicles near the city.[93]

On 29 March, loyalist forces, including the Khamis Brigade,[94] swept through the city, securing the western and northwestern part.[95] Witnesses reported that government troops were forcing mass evictions of people from their homes. A member of the rebel command in the city claimed that loyalist forces were killing and wounding civilians indiscriminately.[96] During the night, heavy street fighting occurred in the city's Az-Zawaabi district in which nine rebels were killed and five wounded.[97]

Battles for the city center and port

30 March–16 April
Rebels during street fighting

On 30 March, a CNN news crew managed to get into Misrata and caught on video the scenes of heavy fighting in the city with heavily damaged streets, a destroyed government armored personnel carrier, a government tank being hit by a RPG and wounded civilians in the main hospital.[98]

On 31 March, a local doctor, who was a member of the opposition, claimed that Gaddafi's forces only retained control of Tripoli Street. However, nobody else confirmed the claim.[99] Gaddafi forces were using artillery to bombard Misrata, according to a rebel spokesman. He stated that 20 civilians were killed in the city the previous day when houses were hit by shells.[100]

On 1 April, Gaddafi's forces attempted an advance via Tripoli Street toward the city's center. Their attack was repelled, after which heavy mortar, artillery, tank and RPG fire was hitting the center.[101] A doctor in the city confirmed that the port had come under loyalist control and the rebels were still only holding out in the center of the city.[102] Still, it seemed a part of the port was still in rebel hands, with much needed supplies reaching the besieged city by a fishing trawler from Malta and being unloaded.[103] During the day, a Coalition air-strike hit and destroyed a loyalist ammunition convoy which consisted of a tank and several military trucks.[104]

On 2 April, spokespersons from the rebel's side gave a comprehensive report via video. Due to the difficulty of getting journalists to Misrata, little to none of their report can be independently confirmed. The rebels claimed that NATO airstrikes on this day were primarily focused in the Abdul Raouf neighborhood, which is the southern part of Misrata. They also stated that they fought Gaddafi's forces in Souwa, the western part of Misrata, where they claimed to have destroyed one tank and killed six loyalist soldiers. According to the rebels, snipers left the insurance building, where they had been sniping from for days, and relocated to the courthouse. The rebels clashed with the snipers as they tried to move, reportedly killing two snipers. The rebels then surrounded the courthouse from three sides. At 3:30 PM ships from Qatar docked at the port to deliver supplies, and a Turkish ship also docked and took approximately 250[105] wounded people from Misrata to be treated in Turkey. The fact that Turkey had prepared a ship to take the injured out of Misrata is the only piece of information that was independently confirmed.[106][107][108]

On 3 April, according to a witness from the city's Al Qalaa section, the rebels attacked Gaddafi's forces positioned in the area of Taghma around five in the morning, forcing Gaddafi's forces to retreat to the section of Jfara after a five-hour battle. After that, Gaddafi's forces in Jfara launched Grad missiles into the Al Qalaa neighborhood, destroying civilian structures and causing residents to flee. The rebels claimed that they killed 26 loyalist troops during the fighting, among them 9 snipers. A rebel spokesman was quoted as saying that the central city hospital was bombarded which resulted in one person being killed and 22 others being wounded.[109] Meanwhile, 250 of the 450+ wounded waiting at Misrata's hospital were taken from the city on board the ship M/F Ankara. The Ankara also delivered medical supplies.[105][110] Also, a ship belonging to Doctors Without Borders also managed to take 71 wounded from Misrata to Tunis to be treated.[111] In the evening, Gaddafi's troops shelled the port, which they had been doing for the previous few days, in an attempt to destroy the rebels last lifeline to the outside world.[112]

Around 3:00 AM on 4 April, a loyalist tank entered the city's outskirts and headed for the port area. The rebels confronted it and after a two-hour battle the tank turned back.[113] On this day, at least five people were killed and five critically injured from artillery shelling on the city.[111]

On 5 April, defected Interior Minister and Major General Abdul Fatah Younis criticized NATO by saying it is not doing enough, and that civilians are dying every day. Younis talked about how sewage was being re-routed into water wells by Gaddafi' forces, and that water supplies are running desperately short.[114]

On 7 April, loyalist artillery caused the port being temporarily closed by the rebels for all incoming ships. By this point, the rebels were only in firm control of the northern and eastern parts of the city and the port area.[115] Still, British relief and humanitarian aid ships carrying vital supplies for Misrata managed to dock and unload at the port.[116] At the same time, rebels engaged in battle with snipers on Tripoli Street, where they claimed to had been able to push some of them back.[117]

On 8 April, loyalist forces conducted an attack against the eastern part of the city, advancing into the Esqeer district. After heavy fighting, they pulled back. At the same time, rebels claimed to had attempted to cut off government snipers in the city center from the rest of their forces by erecting large shipping containers on Tripoli Street.[118] They also stated that they blew up the lower levels of the multi-storey Ta'ameen building and thus trapping dozens of loyalist snipers in the upper levels. According to the rebels, as a response to the attempted opposition blockade of Tripoli Street the loyalists sent in and positioned one or two tanks on the main road. Later during the day, loyalist troops conducted another attack, this time in an attempt to take full control of the Nakl al-Theqeel road linking central Misrata to its port which is on the northeastern outskirts of the city.[119] The fighting for the road continued well into the evening.[120][121]

UNICEF confirmed that children had been targeted and killed by pro-Gaddafi snipers throughout the battle.[121] The European Union stated that they would be ready to launch "a humanitarian mission" in Misrata, which might require military backing (soldiers on the ground), but only with the UN's backing.[121]

On 9 April, loyalist forces continued with their assault on the city, attacking from three directions. Tripoli Street, the port road and the Kharouba neighbourhood came under attack. The loyalist offensive was ultimately repelled at the cost of 18-30 opposition fighters reported killed.[122] The same day, a government-minded tour of international reporters to Misrata was organised which came under rebel sniper fire during which one military officer leading the reporters was wounded. The reporters saw at least two tanks destroyed, by what appeared to be RPG fire, on the outskirts of the city as they entered.[123] An anonymous NATO official claimed that they had destroyed 15 and damaged nine loyalist tanks in and around Misrata in the previous two days,[124] of which five were destroyed by British planes.[125] However, there was no independent confirmation of the claims, though footage of one tank being destroyed had surfaced.[126] Also, the next day, witnesses confirmed more tank fire in the city.[127]

BM-21s like this one were used to launch Grad rockets on the city.

On 11 April, rebels reported that the city was still heavily attacked with more than 140 shells landing in a quarter near the city center.[128] They also stated that Gaddafi forces used for the first time Grad multiple rocket launchers in the city. Heavy fighting took place at the eastern entrance and in the centre of the town. Also, Libyan state TV showed a pro-Gaddafi rally on the outskirts of the city.[129] Six people had died during the day in shelling, including a child.[130]

On 12 April, video surfaced of the destruction on Tripoli Street showing a destroyed tank, buildings heavily damaged or destroyed and the road on fire.[131] The rebels announced that they repelled two attacks from Gaddafi forces and held their position, notably on the road in the direction of the port.[132]

On 13 April, rebels claimed to have pushed Gaddafi's forces on the western front 10 km to Abu Ruwaya, though these reports couldn't be verified due to the lack of journalists. Rebels also claimed to had captured 12 loyalist soldiers in fighting on the main street.[133]

On 14 April, rebels claimed that Gaddafi forces had fired dozens of Grad rockets on a residential area near the port killing at least 23 civilians and wounding 100.[134] They also stated that five civilians were killed and 37 wounded the previous day due to Grad rocket fire. The rebels said that they feared a massacre in Misrata if NATO did not intervene strongly. The artillery fire had also prevented a Qatari ship from docking in the port.[135] Later, the harbor was closed after it suffered extensive damage due to some 200 Grad missiles hitting the port area.[136]

On 15 April, loyalist forces had started their heaviest attack on the city yet. Rebels claimed that government forces shelled the road to the port during the morning, killing at least eight people.[137] Since morning, and up until nightfall, government troops pounded the city with tanks, artillery, Grad rockets, mortars and even, allegedly, cluster bombs. The report on the cluster bombs, which are banned under international law in civilian-populated zones, was also claimed by Human Rights Watch.[138] Troops and tanks entered the city and heavy street fighting raged. For three hours during the day, even a loyalist helicopter was seen flying over the city, in defiance of the no-fly zone, spotting targets for the artillery.[139] The loyalists had battled their way to the city center and taken control of it, while the rebels were still clinging to the port area and managed to set up checkpoints around one neighborhood where a net of government snipers was positioned.[140][141] Rebel-held neighborhoods were becoming increasingly crowded with civilians fleeing advancing loyalist troops. In all, 16 people were reported killed during the day.[142]

On 16 April, heavy shelling continued with rockets hitting the industrial area close to the port killing six people, including three rebels, and wounding more than 48.[143] More video from the city showed rebels using a mobile anti-tank gun against loyalists, a street in flames and a loyalist combat engineering vehicle destroyed.[144]

Rebel gains, loyalist withdrawal

17–24 April

On 17 April, more street fighting and shelling from Gaddafi forces had killed 25 people, including rebels, and wounded 100.[145] During the day's fighting, rebels managed to evict loyalist forces from the shoe factory, from which they were bombing residential areas in the city, and later burned the building down so it couldn't be used again by government troops. They also tried to expand their territory from an area around a central produce market.[146] In addition, doctors and rebels claimed that, after destroying several tanks, rebels had pushed Gaddafi's forces from Tripoli street to the Al Gharyan neighborhood in southern Misrata, leaving most of the nearby main road to the rebels, though there was still fighting going on with snipers firing in all directions. However, there was no way to verify these claims.[147] Meanwhile, video emerged of 22 loyalist T-55 tanks destroyed or damaged, presumably by NATO air-strikes, at a compound in Misrata. Given the tanks in the video were bunched up together and were old models the possibility of them being non-operational before the strikes exists.

On 18 April, the European Union was contemplating deploying up to 1,000 troops for a non-combat ground mission in Misrata, and was reportedly waiting for a non-resolution UN approval.[148] The death toll of 17 April's artillery attack had risen to 25, as some of those injured died from their wounds. Four civilians also died on 18 April from artillery attacks.[149] In the meantime, killings of unarmed migrant workers by rebels were being reported. A British reporter (Kim Sengupta of “The Independent”) who had just arrived at Benghazi by sea from Misrata described the sufferings of large numbers of migrant workers trapped in Misrata in a broadcast on BBC Radio 4. After mentioning casualties during government forces attacks he said about the migrant workers that "some have also died in clashes with the rebel fighters. They were protesting about their conditions, demanding that they be repatriated, and on a couple of occasions this has led to the rebels opening fire and people dying.”[150] During the day's fighting, at least one loyalist Shilka armored anti-aircraft vehicle was destroyed.[151]

By 20 April, 50 percent of Tripoli street was reported to be under loyalist control while the other 50 percent was in rebel hands.[152] Later in the day it was reported from Foreign Policy that the Rebels in the east had managed to insert a team into the city to aid the rebels defending the city. It was made up of 10 individual rebels who brought 164 anti-tank weapons with them. Rebel Kamal Hodaifa reported that the purpose of this was to train rebels in the city on how to conduct anti-tank tactics.[153] Two photojounalists, Tim Hetherington (known for co-directing the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo) and Chris Hondros, were killed in a mortar attack on 20 April while photographing rebel soldiers close to the front lines.[154] In addition to the two journalists, seven Libyan civilians and one Ukrainian doctor were killed during the day.[33]

On 21 April, three rebels were killed and 17 wounded in mortar fire during the morning.[33] The rebels managed to take the local insurance building, the tallest building in the city, where snipers had been using it as a platform for sniping.[155] Of the seven snipers that were in the building: two were killed, three were captured and two escaped. Several destroyed government tanks were surrounding the building.[156] Also, Al Jazeera Arabic reported that rebels were in control of the majority of the western parts of Misrata.[157] The Guardian and the BBC could confirm that northwestern Misrata was under rebel control, however the southwestern was still in loyalist hands.[158][159] Later during the day, rebels attempted to attack a building occupied by loyalist soldiers but were ambushed by government troops, who were in the surrounding buildings as well, leaving four rebels dead. In all, nine rebels were killed during the day.[160]

On 22 April, the deputy foreign minister of Gaddafi's government claimed that the Libyan army will be withdrawing from Misrata. He was quoted as saying that "the situation in Misrata will be dealt with by the tribes around Misurata and Misurata's residents and not by the Libyan army". This comes after rebels managed to eliminate Gaddafi's forces from several locations near the city center, which loyalist forces had been holding for several weeks.[161][162]

On 23 April, the Libyan army began withdrawing from Misrata after the rebel advances. A government spokesman stated that the decision was made in response to "tribes" who would "rather take care of things themselves". Fighting still occurred, and rebels managed to capture Misrata's western overpass bridge at the western gate after a battle in which 13 rebels were injured and 12 wounded loyalist soldiers were captured. One injured government soldier brought to the hospital confirmed that they had received orders to retreat. The captured soldier said the rebels' victory on the bridge was due to it being an ambush on government soldiers while they were busy retreating, he confirmed they had lost control over Misrata. The rebels had also initially claimed that they managed to seize the abandoned hospital which Gaddafi's forces had been using as a base. However, later it was confirmed by Al Jazeera's correspondent that the hospital was still under loyalist control but being attacked by opposition forces.[163][164] 28 people were killed during the day and more than 100 were wounded in more street fighting while the withdrawal was underway and due to booby-traps left behind by the retreating soldiers.[165][166][167] 25 of the dead were rebels.[168]

On 24 April, there was a heavy bombardment on Misrata, according to a rebel spokesman: Gaddafi’s brigades started random bombardment in the early hours of this morning. The bombardment is still going on. They targeted the city centre, mainly Tripoli Street, and three residential areas. NATO planes had been flying over, but there was no sign of air strikes.[169] Later in the day, rebel forces captured the main hospital, where 300-400 loyalists had been holed up for weeks. Pro-Gaddafi forces had retreated to the outskirts of the city.[170] At least five tanks, that were hidden in the loading bays of the hospital from NATO attacks, were burned by the rebels after they captured the building. 20 people were killed in the artillery strikes and more fighting on the 24th, while a total of 48 rebels and civilians had died in the previous two days.[171]

Bombardment of the city, partial port blockade, rebels re-take airport

25 April – 15 May

On 25 April, the bombardment of the city continued with another 30 people being killed and 60 wounded.[172] Rebels reported the following day that Gaddafi forces bombarded the port and launched a new assault in an attempt to take control of it.[173] As a large loyalist force was approaching the port, NATO planes struck. They hit six military vehicles and seven technicals and stopped the government's advance.[174]

On 27 April, civilians were able for the first time in two months to enter the vegetable market, where loyalist forces were stationed for the better part of the battle until they withdrew. Five tanks, one mobile anti-aircraft system and one fuel tanker were left destroyed at the market following NATO air-strikes.[175] During the day, a NATO air-strike hit a salt factory on the road to the port where rebels were holding a blocking position. 12 rebels were killed and five wounded in the attack.[176] The next day, a local doctor confirmed that during the night seven rebels were killed and four wounded when rocket and artillery fire hit their checkpoint.[177]

On 29 April, after making sure the port was secure rebels began attacking the airport, after recently driving Gaddafi's forces back to the outskirts of Misrata.[178] However, loyalist tanks conducted an assault against the southwestern outskirts of the city, particularly the village of Zawiyat al-Mahjoub where some 50 rebel fighters were concentrated. 15 people were killed and 80 wounded in the day's fighting, a majority of them rebels.[179] During the day, pro-Gaddafi forces planted sea mines in front of the harbor in an attempt to blockade the port.[180] NATO ships managed to remove two of them, but a third drifted free and NATO forces were not able to find it which resulted in the port being closed for all maritime traffic.[181]

On 30 April, several callers reported heavy shelling of residential areas. One caller said the shelling likely came from the Air Force academy. Another caller counted over 50 explosions.[182] Misrata came under renewed attack late at night and in the early hours of the following morning.[182] Gaddafi's troops were seen for the first time wearing gas masks, which were distributed to them in the thousands, speculating the possibility of loyalists preparing to use chemical weapons.[183]

On 2 May, during the morning, tanks tried to enter the city from al-Ghiran, a southwestern suburb near the airport.[184] It was stated by medical sources in the city that since 24 April 110 civilians and rebels had been killed and more than 350 wounded.[185]

On 4 May, Gaddafi’s forces killed five people in shelling of the port area in Misrata. “The bombing has caused so many casualties among Libyans and people of other nationalities waiting for evacuation,” Gemal Salem, a spokesman for the rebels, told Reuters. “So far we have five killed and ambulances are rushing to the scene to evacuate the casualties.”[186]

On 5 May, loyalist forces dropped 20 rocket-borne anti-tank land mines onto the port which landed via a parachute after they were released from the rockets. One patrolling rebel pick-up was hit by one of the mines, while investigating the landings, wounding two rebel fighters.[187]

On 7 May, Gaddafi's troops used converted cropdusting planes to bomb rebel controlled oil tanks, successfully destroying all eight of them.[188] NATO also confirmed that Gaddafi's forces had been using helicopters to drop mines into the harbour.[189]

On 8 May, heavy fighting had been reported near the city's airport[190] and at the resort area of Burgueya on the western outskirts.[191] Meanwhile, the rebels confirmed that for two weeks they had been receiving only one ship with supplies into the port per week or none at all, while before two to five ships were docking during a week, because of the constant daily artillery shelling, sea mines floating at the entrance to the harbour and land mines dropped on the port area. They stated that their food, water and medical supplies would start getting to critical levels if a solution wasn't found. Also, fuel reserves had already reached dangerously low levels since all eight main fuel tanks had been destroyed in loyalist air-strikes the day before.[189]

By 9 May, AFP reported that rebels managed to take control of the remaining coastal road in Misrata's proximity up to the village of Dafniya, 20 km east from city of Zliten, as well as expanded further into the southeastern areas of Misrata.[192]

On 10 May, rebels reportedly advanced further into the Al Ghiran neighborhood where they encircled the airport and air academy, nearly surrounding both installations where Gaddafi's troops are stationed.[193]

HMS Liverpool, a Type 42 destroyer of the Royal Navy that attacked Pro-Gaddafi forces at sea and on land during the Battle of Misrata

By mid-day 11 May, the AFP confirmed that rebels won control of the airport after a fierce fight with loyalists who were held up in the terminal buildings of the airport. Pockets of fighting continued in the military airbase, adjacent to the civilian airport which came under full rebel control.[194][195][196] The same day rebels claimed to had reached to 9.6 kilometres (6.0 mi) outside Zliten, however later it would be confirmed that they were still 24 kilometres (15 mi) from the city.[197] Rebels stated that during two days of fighting for the airport five of their fighters were killed and 105 wounded.[198] Hours after the airport battle, NATO stated that the HMCS Charlottetown, the HMS Liverpool, and a French warship engaged a number of small, fast loyalist boats attacking the port, while the rebels were celebrating their advances, and "the [loyalist] boats were forced to abandon their attack and regime forces ashore covered their retreat with artillery and anti-aircraft cannon fire directed towards the allied warships"[199]

On 12 May, during the fighting on the western outskirts of Misrata, at least one loyalist tank was disabled.

On 13 May, according to the opposition, the entirety of Misrata proper was under rebel control, with clashes still occurring in the southern suburb of Hizam, the southeastern farmland of Zameena, and west of Dafniya.[194] The next day, AFP reported the rebels had advanced 20 km in the east to reach the gates of Taworgha. It also relayed rebel claims that they reached the gates of Zliten in the west.[200] However, there was no independent confirmation of the advances, with rebel spokesmen even backtracking on their previous statements of victories during the claimed two-day advance.[201][202]

On 15 May, opposition forces stated they would not launch an offensive in the direction of Zliten because of the high risk of heavy casualties being sustained.[203] The same day, rebels declared the battle for Misrata over and that they were in full control of the city with no more combat taking place.[204]

On 16 May, a rebel spokesman from Benghazi claimed that opposition forces had forced two brigades of Gaddafi's forces, based in Zliten, into open battle on the highway and defeated them. However, he contradicted himself by saying the fighting was still ongoing. Also, no reporters on the ground or any other independent sources confirmed the claim and it was reiterated by rebels on the ground that they would not advance on Zliten because of the possibility of a defeat just like the ones the eastern rebels witnessed during their attempted advances earlier in the war.[205]

NATO Strikes

According to NATO's daily "Operational Media Updates", the NATO strikes in the Misrata vicinity during the offensive hit:

12-16 April NATO strikes
Date Tanks Buildings Aircraft Vehicles
12 April
12 0 0 0
14 April
0 3 Bunkers 1 Helicopter 0
16 April
0 0 0 1 Armoured personnel carrier
Total 12 3 1 1


Sporadic fighting still continued for some time after the rebels established total control over the city due to the government troops still surrounding the town on all sides. For more than a month, heavy frontline fighting and shelling raged at Dafniya and Taworgha.

On 21 June, loyalists fired four Grad rockets into the centre of Misrata. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.[209]

On 16 August, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim announced that the Libyan government had retaken Misrata, although no independent media followed up the claim.[210][211] Rebel controlled radio within the city of Misrata on 17 August claimed that rebel forces were advancing southwards to the town of Bani Walid, proving the Gaddafi regimes claims of capturing Misrata from the rebels to be untrue.[212]


Numbers of killed and wounded

Reports on the numbers of people killed in the three-month siege vary. The chief of Misrata's hospital, Dr. Mohammed Fortia, stated that by 30 March, 398 rebels and civilians had been killed.[213] However, Fortia also said, at a later time, that 257 rebels and civilians were killed by 10 April.[214] Just four days later, on 14 April, another doctor said 700 rebels and civilians died in the two-month siege.[134] There was no explanation for the discrepancy in the numbers. The numbers of civilians killed in comparison to the numbers of rebels killed have also varied, with one doctor in the city claiming that 80 percent of those killed were civilians,[215] while a member of Misrata's medical committee stated that up until 21 April, 365 people were killed, of which at least 85 were civilians.[216][217] Based on various reports during the battle, roughly three-quarters (of the lower number) to a fifth (of the higher number) of those killed were rebels, while the rest were civilians. Loyalist forces had also suffered at least 358 dead, a number based on rebel reports.[21] The numbers of wounded had also not been consistent, with Fortia reporting 949 wounded rebels and civilians (only 22 of them being women and eight children) by 10 April,[214] while earlier reports had put the number at around 1,400.[218] By 21 April, the city's medical committee stated that 4,000 people had been wounded.[216][217]

On 9 September, the NTC health minister said that at least 2,000 rebels and civilians had been killed in the Misrata area since the war began, with at least 900 injuries that had resulted in loss of limbs.[219]

Evacuation of the wounded and stranded

After the NATO-enforced no-fly zone was established, an international effort was underway to evacuate 14,000 stranded migrants and hundreds of rebels and civilians wounded in the fighting.[137]

On 18 March, a Moroccan ferry unloaded 1,800 migrants in Tanger, most of them Moroccans, after it evacuated them from Misrata the previous week.[220]

On 2 April, a Turkish ship had evacuated 250 wounded from the city. The next day, a Tunisian ship took another 71 wounded.[221]

On 9 April, two Qatari ships evacuated 1,800 Egyptians from the city and on 11 April, a Turkish ship evacuated another 1,000.[222]

On 14 April, a Qatari ship and a ship sent by Doctors Without Borders were scheduled to dock in the port. The Qatari vessel was to take on at least 800 of the migrants while the other ship was to evacuate 165 of the wounded. However, the ships couldn't dock because of heavy rocket shelling of the port and extensive damage to the harbor.[223] Still, in the evening, a Greek ferry did dock with the purpose of transferring the foreigners to Benghazi from where they would move on to Egypt. The next day, after unloading 400 tonnes of aid supplies, the ship left with 1,182 migrants on board, mostly Bangladeshis and Egyptians. Later, the Doctors Without Borders ship had also managed to dock and evacuated 99 people,[224] 64 of them wounded, to Tunisia.[225]

On 18 April, a ship evacuated 971 people, most of them migrants, including 650 Ghanaians and people of other nationalities like Filipinos and Ukrainians, but also 100 Libyans, including 23 wounded.[226] Later during the day, a ship of the International Committee of the Red Cross picked up another 618 migrants.[227]

On 20 April, two Qatari chartered ships evacuated almost 2,500 people. They arrived the next day in Benghazi, with one of them carrying 1,500 people, including 150 wounded, while the other ship carried 950 people.[228] Later during the day, the Greek ferry the Ionian Spirit also arrived in Benghazi with 1,000 people, including 239 Libyan civilians, and the rest migrants, mostly from Niger.[229][230] Among those 1,000 were also 31 wounded, including four amputees.[231]

On 24 April, an aid ship evacuated 1,000 people, including migrants and some wounded people. A Qatari ship had also taken 90 wounded to Tunisia.[232]

On 25 April, nearly 1,000 migrants, most of them Nigerians, and 17 wounded people were evacuated.[233]

On 27 April, a ICRC and a IOM ship transported more people from the city. The ICRC ship evacuated more than 600 civilians while the IOM ferry took 1,091 people, including more than 800 migrants (most of them from Niger)[176] and 30-55 wounded,[234] from Misrata.[235]

On 4 May, the IOM ship docked in the port, despite a floating sea mine and heavy artillery shelling, and took on 800-1,138 people, again mostly migrants (the last of them),[236] among whom were at least 36 critically wounded people.[237]

On 12 May, a ship with 108 refugees from Misrata, including 25 wounded, arrived in Benghazi.[238]


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  238. ^ More than 100 refugees from Misrata arrive in Benghazi

External links

Coordinates: 32°22′39.12″N 15°5′31.26″E / 32.3775333°N 15.0920167°E / 32.3775333; 15.0920167

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