U.S. fighter jets on Sunday mounted attacks on Libyan ground forces advancing on the rebel-held city of Benghazi.
The strikes, which included 15 U.S. fighter jets, were part of a broader mission to halt the advancement of Gaddafi’s military on the rebel strongholds in the eastern portion of the country and to prevent him from using helicopters and fighter jets to pound the rebels.
“Benghazi is certainly not safe from attack but it is certainly under less threat than it was yesterday, and we believe [Gaddafi’s] forces are under significant stress and suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion,” said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
British and French fighter jets also took part in the strikes on the advancing Libyan forces, Gortney said.
Reporters traveling outside Benghazi on Sunday morning found a graveyard of smoking military vehicles, the remnants of Gaddafi’s force in the area. The overturned armored vehicles and trucks, news agencies reported, had apparently been struck in attacks by U.S., French and British aircraft.
The U.N.-supported mission began Saturday, with French warplanes swooping down on military vehicles and U.S. and British warships raining scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles on Libyan air defenses.
Beyond the attacks on Libyan ground forces, U.S. forces also mounted strikes with satellite-guided bombs on an airfield outside of Misurata, where the Libyan air force maintained fighter jets in hardened shelters.
As of Sunday afternoon the Libyan government had not launched any aircraft over the country and the U.S. military had detected no radar emissions from any of the air defense sites that it had targeted, military officials said.
Despite a plume of smoke around one of Gaddafi’s compounds in Tripoli, U.S. officials said that they were not targeting the Libyan leader. “At this point I can guarantee he is not on the target list,” Gortney said. “We are not targeting his residence.”
The U.S. military is currently taking the lead in the military operations but American commander plan to turn over command to a coalition of other nations in the next few days, Gortney said.
Even after the transfer, U.S. fighter jets, tankers, surveillance aircraft and electronic warfare planes would likely still participate in operations over Libya. The preponderance of the attack forces, however, would come from other nations, Gortney said.
President Obama, in remarks shortly before the missiles flew, said Gaddafi had brought the attacks upon himself by failing to heed international demands for a cease-fire.