Libya rebel advances complicate use of air power
WASHINGTON/MONTEREY, California |
WASHINGTON/MONTEREY, California (Reuters) - NATO planners are finding it harder to isolate targets in Tripoli due to rebel movement throughout the city, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, as Defence Secretary Leon Panetta voiced hopes the alliance could soon start winding down its Libya mission.
The United States, which is providing Predator drones and other air capabilities to the NATO mission, had sharply stepped up the tempo of its air strikes on Libya over the past week and a half, according to Pentagon data.
But there were no new U.S. air strikes from early on August 22 until early on August 23. A U.S. official pointed to a more complex posture of pro-Gaddafi and opposition forces in Tripoli that have complicated the ability to target sites without the risk of inflicting civilian casualties.
Rebels now appear to be able to go anywhere throughout the city and, although Gaddafi forces are still held up in some pockets of Tripoli, their posture is less visible than before, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
There also fewer viable targets after months of bombings.
Libyan rebels overran Gaddafi's compound on Tuesday, destroying symbols of a 42-year dictatorship they declared was now over as they set about hunting down the fallen ruler and his sons.
The Pentagon reaffirmed its assessment that Gaddafi had not left the country.
Panetta, speaking at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, said the situation in Libya remained "fluid." Still he expressed hope that the NATO mission, which started in March, may be in its final stretch.
"Hopefully that is a mission that is beginning to draw to a close," said Panetta, who until July was director of the CIA.
Panetta said later, speaking at the Defence Language Institute, that it was clear the Gaddafi regime was collapsing but warned the situation "still remains dangerous."
U.S. officials have said the United States does not intend to deploy ground troops as part of any follow-on peacekeeping operation. But Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan did not rule out other types of support once the NATO mission winds down.
The United States was monitoring Libya's chemical weapons sites, Lapan said, amid concern in Congress that those and other Libyan weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
Lapan said he was aware of a total of two Scud missile launches by Gaddafi forces. Another U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that neither caused any injuries or deaths.
"Regime forces are going to use whatever means they have to continue to inflict damage on their opponents and on the civilian population," Lapan said.
Gaddafi's son and presumed heir Saif al-Islam told a crowd that his father was well and still in Tripoli, confounding reports of his capture.
Asked whether the Pentagon was surprised by the emergence of Gaddafi's son, whom the rebels had initially said was in their hands, Lapan said: "We've seen conflicting reports. Again it goes back to a very fluid situation ... We continue to see conflicting reports about the whereabouts certain individuals."
(Editing by Philip Barbara)
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