Coalition claims success in Libya

Coalition strikes have succeeded in crippling the air defenses of Moamer Kadhafi‘s Libyan regime and a no-fly zone is effectively in place over the country, the US military said Sunday.

“We judge these strikes have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime air defense capability,” vice-admiral Bill Gortney told a Pentagon briefing.

French, American and British forces have launched the biggest intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, firing more than 120 Tomahawk Cruise missiles and conducting bombing raids on key Libyan targets.

“The no-fly zone is effectively in place,” the Pentagon spokesman said, explaining, as a second night of missions began, that Kadhafi had lost the ability to launch many of his surface-to-air missiles.

“There is no indication of any civilian casualties” resulting from the allied strikes, Gortney added, a denial of reports to the contrary from Kadhafi officials.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said the strikes had stopped Kadhafi’s forces in their tracks and the aim now was to cut off their logistical support.

Mullen stressed that the immediate goal of the coalition’s intervention — as prescribed by a UN Security Council resolution on Thursday — was to protect civilians with a no-fly zone, not to oust Kadhafi.

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as other Western leaders, had been saying Kadhafi must go.

Such calls have been drying up as signs of divisions emerge in the coalition with the head of the Arab League suggesting the strikes had gone too far.

Mullen admitted the next steps in the process were far from clear.

“We’re in a situation now that what we do will depend to some degree on what he does,” Mullen told Fox News Sunday.

Pressed on CBS’s “Face the Nation” about the endgame, he said that was “very uncertain” and indicated it would ultimately be up to other members of the coalition, rather than the United States, to decide what action to take.

“It’s hard to know exactly how this turns out. He’s a thug; he’s a cagey guy; he’s a survivor. We know that,” Mullen said.

“I can’t say exactly how long… the military part of this will be in effect and I think it’s for others to determine where this goes long-term.”

Obama has vowed that US troops will not be deployed on the ground and Mullen stressed that military action was limited — for the moment at least — to protecting civilians, particularly in the rebel bastion of Benghazi.

“The focus of the United Nations Security Council was really Benghazi specifically and to protect the civilians,” Mullen told Fox News Sunday.

“This is not about going after Kadhafi himself or attacking him at this particular point in time.

“It is about achieving these narrow and relatively limited objectives so that he stops killing his people and so that humanitarian support can be provided.”

Mullen said the no-fly zone had been successfully implemented as Kadhafi hadn’t flown any aircraft in two days and that the US military would look to hand over the running of the mission “in a few days.”

“We command the operation right now, but this is a coalition,” he said. “The French actually had the first airplanes in. We attacked last night with the British.

“And we expect, in a few days, to hand off command of this… to a coalition that will lead it over the longer term, and then, from the United States perspective, recede to a position of support.”

His remarks came after the United States unleashed a barrage of strikes against the Libyan regime’s air defenses.

In a dramatic show of force, American warships and a British submarine fired Tomahawk Cruise missiles into Libya against Kadhafi’s anti-aircraft missiles and radar facilities on Saturday.

Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon in an earlier briefing that the cruise missiles “struck more than 20 integrated air defense systems and other air defense facilities ashore.”

Earlier Sunday, three US B-2 stealth bombers dropped 40 bombs on a major Libyan airfield in an attempt to destroy much of the Libyan Air Force, US military officials said.

In all, 19 US planes, including the stealth bombers took part in dawn raids Sunday on targets in Libya, US Africa Command, based in Germany, told AFP.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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