Libyan rebel mood changes after Nato bombing error
BENGHAZI - The Nato airstrike against a column of rebel tanks has caused shock here, but it also shows what a difficult stage the campaign has entered.
People on the streets say they are bewildered at what Nato has done, but they are also adamant that they do not want foreign troops here.
I understand that the aircraft responsible were either French or Canadian, although Nato refuses to specify the nationality.
The incident has changed the atmosphere here in many ways.
When General Abdul Fateh Younis, effectively the commander of the rebellion, said on Thursday at a press conference that it did not need or want soldiers from other countries to become involved, Libyan journalists burst into applause and started cheering.
It is also only fair to say that many Nato countries would have deep reservations about the possible "mission creep" involved in putting forward air controllers or training teams on the ground.
Although it is widely assumed that some British, US, and French intelligence and special forces personnel are here, it seems that their role is confined to maintaining high level communications with the rebel leadership.
If not, how could Thursday's mishap in which 20 armoured vehicles were sent south by Gen Younis without Nato knowing about it have happened?
The general and the alliance spokesmen flatly contradict each other over whether or not the rebels passed on information about their intended assault. But spotters on the ground would most likely have prevented yesterday's error.
Given the recriminations, and the reluctance of Nato to get drawn into acting directly as the rebel air force, it does not seem like any rapid change in this confused situation is possible.
There have already been three accidental Nato strikes on rebel columns, and it is quite possible there will be more.
As the casualties in these incidents multiply, it is bound to feed the doubts that some Nato members have harboured about this campaign since the outset.
In addition to the likelihood of accident, the current limited state of co-operation is also likely to slow down a military resolution of the conflict.
The sharp reduction to the number of missions being flown by US aircraft will have a significant effect on the damage being done to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
The initial "coalition of the willing" air assault on Libya (in which the great majority of the ordnance was delivered by America) hit air defence and command installations.
But knocking out anti-aircraft missiles, rusting migs, or bunkers has had a very limited effect in the Gaddafi forces' ability to harm the rebels.
Ground operations consist of fast moving attacks with pick up trucks, armoured vehicles and artillery. The number of individual targets of this kind belonging to regime forces probably runs to several thousand.
Perhaps a few hundred have been destroyed so far and the British, French and few other countries still attacking ground targets (as opposed to patrolling Libyan airspace) can add two or three dozen to that tally each day.
At this rate of attrition it could be a long time yet before Col Gaddafi's forces are broken.