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With Libya rebels stalled, frustration with NATO mounts

Libya rebels' outcry over a mistaken NATO airstrike demonstrates frustration with the alliance as the opposition realizes that international action is not intended to win their war for them.

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Libyan rebels run from explosions at the western gate of Ajdabiya, Libya, on April 8.

Youssef Boudlal/Reuters

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When NATO warplanes hit three Libyan rebel tanks west of Ajdabiya yesterday, the airstrikes touched off a panicked exodus from the city. The errant attacks also set off wild rumors that Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s air force once again controlled Libya's skies.

The strikes were a case of mistaken identity, the deputy head of the alliance's Libya operations insisted today. “The situation in the area is still very fluid, with tanks and other vehicles moving in different directions,” British Rear Admiral Russell Harding told reporters, adding that it was the first time NATO had encountered rebel tanks on the move.

But the reaction to the incident demonstrates a growing well of frustration in Libya’s east as rebels begin to realize that international action is not designed to win their war for them. In Benghazi, and among the lightly armed rebel militia, the first seeds of doubt are also emerging that Colonel Qaddafi will be removed from power soon.

After the NATO strikes yesterday, a small group of rebel militiamen chanted outside Ajdabiya for an end to international operations here. There were dark mutterings in Benghazi that NATO, prodded by Turkey, which has extensive business interests here, was cutting a deal behind their backs with Qaddafi.

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