No-fly zone widening; Gadhafi no target
Updated: 2011-03-22 13:20
WASHINGTON – The opening phase of US and coalition military action in Libya bruised Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces and set the stage for extending a no-fly zone across the country, but American officials made clear Monday their military goals stop short of targeting Gadhafi or directly assisting rebel forces.
"We are going to stick to that mandate," Obama said.
Related comment: Politics behind attacks on Libya
He has little choice if he wants to hold Arab and other backing and hand off front-line responsibility for a no-fly zone to European or other allied warplanes in the coming days.
Discord was evident Monday in Europe over whether the military operation in Libya should be controlled by NATO.Turkey blocked the alliance's participation, while Italy issued a veiled threat to withdraw the use of its bases unless the alliance was put in charge. Germany also questioned the wisdom of the operation, and Russia's Vladimir Putin railed against the airstrikes as outside meddling "reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade."
In Russia for an awkwardly timed visit on other topics, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it is a mistake to set Gadhafi's ouster as a military goal. "That is a matter for the Libyans themselves to decide," Gates said in an interview with Interfax news agency.
At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner suggested the administration's goal of new leadership in Libya was not an immediate objective.
The direction of the western military campaign is now shifting from crippling Libya's air defenses and halting a Libyan attack on the rebel stronghold in Benghazi to expanding the no-fly zone and setting the stage for a flow of humanitarian supplies to displaced Libyans. The air campaign began Saturday with a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missile attacks by US and British vessels in the Mediterranean.
Attacks were continuing (Related: Libyan capital under 3rd round of airstrikes), but on a far smaller scale, US Army Gen. Carter Ham, the lead US commander said. The general made clear that his intention was to stick closely to the limitations of the UN Security Council mandate, which set the primary goal of protecting civilians from attacks by the Libyan military. Thus, if Gadhafi forces back away from rebel-held areas and do not demonstrate hostile intent or movement, they will be spared.
"There is no intent to completely destroy the Libyan military forces," Ham said.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified data, said the attacks thus far had reduced Gadhafi's air defense capabilities by more than 50 percent.
That has enabled the coalition to focus more on extending the no-fly zone, which is now mainly over the coastal waters off Libya and around the city of Benghazi in the east, across the country to the Tripoli area this week.
Ham said there is reason to worry that al-Qaida could use the instability in Libya as an opportunity to establish a foothold there for training and organizing terrorist attacks on American interests.
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