COALITION strikes have succeeded in crippling the air defences of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan regime and a no-fly zone is effectively in place over the country, the US military said on Sunday.
“We judge these strikes have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime air defence capability,” vice-admiral Bill Gortney told a Pentagon briefing.
French, US 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.
Britain on Sunday said it would consider Libyan leader Gaddafi’s promise of a ceasefire on “actions not words” as more Tornado jets left from a base in eastern England.
Britain said earlier on Sunday that its overnight air and sea strikes had been “very successful” and stressed it was doing everything it could to avoid civilian casualties as it enforces a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone.
“The no-fly zone is effectively in place,” the Pentagon spokesman said, explaining, as a second night of missions began, that Gaddafi 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 Gaddafi officials.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said the strikes had stopped Gaddafi’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 Gaddafi.
Explosions were reportedly heard on Sunday near Gaddafi’s residence, but Western forces insist Libya’s leader was not being specifically targeted. US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as other Western leaders, had been saying Gaddafi must go.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said it would be “unwise” to have coalition forces try to kill Gaddafi in military strikes in Libya. 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 UN Security Council was really Benghazi specifically and to protect the civilians,” Mullen told Fox News Sunday. “This is not about going after Gaddafi 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 Gaddafi 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 aeroplanes 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 defences. In a dramatic show of force, US warships and a British submarine fired Tomahawk Cruise missiles into Libya against Gaddafi’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 defence systems and other air defence facilities ashore”. Earlier on 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, said.