USA TODAY US Edition
GROUND FORCES TARGETED
Warplanes go after Gadhafi’s ground forces
Allied planes bomb Gadhafi’s artillery, tanks to protect Libyan civilians,
Allied warplanes are bombing ground forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to prevent them from killing civilians in rebel-held cities, a top U.S. officer in the campaign in Libya said Wednesday.
The provisional government for the rebels in Benghazi has been pleading for the coalition to do more than attack Gadhafi’s air defenses, saying his heavy armor was wiping out its lightly armed opposition soldiers.
Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber said the American-led coalition has begun targeting Gadhafi’s artillery, tanks, mobile missiles and the “beans and bullets” that he supplies to his forces.
“We are interdicting and putting pressure on Gadhafi’s forces that are attacking population centers,” he said.
Witnesses in Misrata, the only rebel-held city in western Libya, said tanks pulled back from the city after airstrikes could be heard overnight. NATO warships, meanwhile, started patrolling to enforce the United Nations arms embargo against Libya.
Pro-Gadhafi troops who have besieged Ajdabiya in the east attacked a few hundred rebels on the outskirts. The rebels fired back with rockets from the center of the city, which is 100 miles south of the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi.
Hueber said Gadhafi’s forces have intensified their attacks against rebels in Misrata and Ajdabiya, Hueber said, in violation of the U.N. mandate.
Secretary of State Hillary RodhamClinton said Gadhafi can end the attack by resigning. She said the United States wants the Libyan government to “make the right decision” to cease fire, withdraw forces from cities and transition to a government that doesn’t include Gadhafi.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there is no clear end to enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya. He said the United States could turn over control of the mission as soon as Saturday.
U.S., European, and Arab and African officials have been invited to London next week for political talks about Libya. But there was no decision yet on who would take over.
Military experts say coalition bombing near populated areas raises the risk of killing the people the coalition is trying to protect. There have been no reports of civilians killed in allied airstrikes, Hueber said.
“Our mission here is to protect the civilian populace,” Hueber said. “And we choose our targets and plan our actions with that as a top priority.”
U.S. satellite-guided weapons and targeting systems lessen the chances of civilians being killed, said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute. But without forces on the ground to help identify targets, the chances of a bomb hitting innocent bystanders, especially in a crowded city, increase greatly.
U.S. military officials say they have no such troops in Libya. President Obama, in an interview with Univision on Wednesday, ruled out deploying any there.
“If the two sides are engaged in fighting in cities, it would be nearly impossible to target Gadhafi’s forces without causing some civilian casualties, Thompson said.
Hueber said the no-fly zone noweffectively encompasses Libya’s entire coastline on the Mediterranean Sea and there has been no indication of Gadhafi’s aircraft in the area.
He also said non-U.S. coalition pilots are flying a greater share of missions. The coalition has flown 175 combat missions in 24 hours ending Wednesday morning. Allies flew 63 of them, far more than in previous days, Hueber said, when they flew about 15% of the sorties.