In Stuttgart, Germany, the commander of coalition forces involved in the Libya campaign, U.S. Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, said the aim now is to extend the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone southward and westward from Benghazi to cover other cities, including Misurata and Tripoli. In doing so, he said, “it is likely we will encounter the regime’s mobile air defense systems . . . and will certainly attack them.”
Ham said the allied mission was to “protect civilians from attack by the regime ground forces” and not to provide close air support for the rebels or “support opposition forces if they engage in offensive operations.” Obama reiterated that administration position during his news conference in Chile.
In a news conference with Pentagon reporters by video hookup, Ham, who heads the U.S. Africa Command, also said the allies are not targeting Gaddafi personally or seeking to destroy the Libyan armed forces. He said the opposition consists of civilians who are trying to protect their homes and families, as well as military forces with heavy weapons, and he acknowledged that it might be difficult to distinguish between the two in deciding when civilians are being attacked and thus subject to allied protection.
On Sunday, coalition aircraft — roughly half of them American — flew about 60 sorties, and there have been 70 or 80 sorties Friday, “well over half” by planes from other countries, Ham said. The result has been that Gaddafi’s forces “now possess little will or capability to resume offensive military operations,” he said.
Ham defended an attack on Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, saying the large complex included air-defense systems and a command-and-control facility, which was the main target of the strike. The attack degraded “the regime’s ability to control its military forces in the attack on civilians” and thus had a “very direct relationship” with the allies’ mission, he said.
He added: “I have no mission to attack [Gaddafi], and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that.”
In Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, anti-Gaddafi spokesmen said the rebels ultimately still plan to march on Tripoli, the Libyan capital where the 68-year-old strongman remains ensconced. Opposition spokesman Ahmed al-Hasi said the rebels would welcome more airstrikes but want to achieve their aims without the intervention of foreign ground troops, Reuters news agency reported.
New fighting also was reported Monday in the besieged city of Misurata, where rebels have been battling to hold onto their westernmost stronghold, Arabic language television networks said. Rebels claimed that the Gaddafi government was bringing civilians from nearby towns to serve as human shields for his forces laying siege to Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city about 130 miles east of Tripoli.