Gadhafi vows long war, US says endgame unclear

09:35, March 21, 2011      

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The Pentagon and the White House Sunday claimed "initial success" two days into a military assault on Libya that included some of the heaviest firepower in the American arsenal including B-2 stealth bombers.


Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Xinhua/Reuters)

However, some American officials said that it was too early to define the international military campaign's end-game.

The top U.S. military officer suggested that Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi might stay in power despite NATO’s military assault. Other top U.S. officials have suggested that a militarily weakened and internationally isolated Gadhafi could be ripe for an internal coup, and be ousted from power.

A second wave of attacks, mainly from American fighters and bombers, targeted Libyan ground forces and air defenses, following an opening barrage Saturday of sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. expects to turn control of the mission over to a coalition — probably headed either by the French and British or by NATO — "in a matter of days."

And, Gadhafi vowed a "long war" as allied forces launched a second night of strikes on Libya Sunday. In an attack late Sunday a cruise missile blasted a building in Gadhafi's residential compound. But obviously Gadhafi was not hurt in the operation.

Gadhafi vowed to fight on. In a phone call to Libyan state television Sunday, he said he would not let up on Benghazi and said the government had opened up weapons depots to all Libyans, who were now armed with "automatic weapons, mortars and bombs." State television said Gadhafi's supporters were converging on airports as human shields.

"We promise you a long war," he said. He called the international assault "simply a colonial crusader aggression that may ignite another large-scale crusader war."

Late Sunday, however, NATO's top decision-making body failed to agree on a plan to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

At the Pentagon, Navy Vice Admiral William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference that the back-to-back assaults Saturday and Sunday had inflicted heavy damage on Libya. They largely silenced Gadhafi's air defenses, blunted his army's drive on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and confused his forces.

"We judge these strikes to have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime's air defense capability," Gortney said. "We believe his forces are under significant stress and suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion."

Gortney said that Gadhafi himself is not a target, but he could not guarantee the strongman's safety.

The systems targeted most closely were Libya's SA-5 surface-to-air missiles, Russian-made weaponry that could pose a threat to allied aircraft many miles off the Libyan coastline. Libya has a range of other air defense weaponry, including portable surface-to-air missiles that are more difficult to eliminate by bombing.

Sunday's attacks, carried out by a range of U.S. aircraft — including Air Force B-2 stealth bombers — demonstrated the predominance of U.S. firepower in the international coalition. A military official said the B-2s flew 25 hours in a round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and dropped 452,000-pound bombs.

U.S. missiles and warplanes were clearly in the lead on Saturday and Sunday, but Gates said the plan remains for the U.S. to step back once the threat from the Libyan military is reduced.

"We agreed to use our unique capabilities and the breadth of those capabilities at the front of this process, and then we expected in a matter of days to be able to turn over the primary responsibility to others," Gates told reporters. "We will continue to support the coalition, we will be a member of the coalition, we will have a military role in the coalition, but we will not have the preeminent role."

Gates had planned to fly to Russia on Saturday but delayed his departure for a day so he could be in Washington to monitor the operation's launch.

House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Sunday that while the U.S. has an obligation to support the Libyan people, the Obama administration must do a better job of communicating to American people and to Congress what the U.S. mission in Libya is and how it will be achieved before further military commitments are made.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was pressed repeatedly during a round of Sunday television interviews to explain the mission's objectives. He said the main goal is to protect civilians from violence by pro-Gadhafi forces, while enabling the flow of humanitarian relief supplies.

He said the first step — imposing a no-fly zone — had been achieved, with little worry of Gadhafi shooting down allied patrols. But it was unclear how long the military effort would go on, or on what scale. "I wouldn't speculate in terms of length at this particular point in time."

Asked whether it was possible that the military goals might be met without Gadhafi being ousted, Mullen replied, "That's certainly potentially one outcome."

By People's Daily Online / Agencies

 
 
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