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The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 6:31 AM

-- Rebels try to save city under Gadhafi siege; US warns allied strikes could end in stalemate

ZWITINA, Libya (AP) - Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat just last week.

But the rebellion's more organized military units were still not ready, and the opposition disarray underscored U.S. warnings that a long stalemate could emerge.

The air campaign by U.S. and European militaries has unquestionably rearranged the map in Libya and rescued rebels from the immediate threat they faced only days ago of being crushed under a powerful advance by Gadhafi's forces. The first round of airstrikes smashed a column of regime tanks that had been moving on the rebel capital of Benghazi in the east.

Monday night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes had begun in the capital, Tripoli, marking the third night of bombardment. But while the airstrikes can stop Gadhafi's troops from attacking rebel cities - in line with the U.N. mandate to protect civilians - the United States, at least, appeared deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader.

President Barack Obama said Monday that "it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi has to go." But, he said, the international air campaign has a more limited goal, to protect civilians.

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Rate of coalition attacks on Libya is slowing; officials say US role to lessen in coming days

WASHINGTON (AP) - Building on what U.S. officials called a successful first stage of international military action in Libya, the focus is shifting to widening a no-fly zone across the North African country while continuing smaller-scale attacks on Libyan air defenses and setting the stage for a humanitarian relief mission.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others said the U.S. military's role will lessen in coming days as other countries take on more missions and the need declines for large-scale offensive action like the barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired Saturday and Sunday mainly by U.S. ships and submarines off Libya's coast.

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified data, said Monday the attacks thus far had reduced Libya'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 rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east, across the country to the Tripoli area this week.

Discord was evident Monday in Europe over whether the military operation 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 U.N.-backed airstrikes as outside meddling "reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade."


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© 2011 The Associated Press

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