Libya bombing campaign targets Gadhafi’s air, ground forces


TRIPOLI, Libya — The second day of the Western military campaign against Moammar Gadhafi saw an escalation of attacks, with bombing raids against ground forces
loyal to the Libyan leader — and an escalation of questions on the
strikes’ objective and the extent of the U.S. role.

As U.S. officials said that Gadhafi was not being
targeted in a campaign that has seen his air defenses blasted by cruise
missiles, a structure in his massive compound in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, was hit in a missile strike late Sunday.

With antiaircraft fire lighting up the sky,
journalists were led to a bus after midnight and driven to the Bab
Azizia compound, whose barracks-style buildings, barbed wire and
hundreds of young militiamen brandishing semiautomatic weapons give it
the look of a Tripoli “Green Zone.”

Just 100 yards from the residence that President Ronald Reagan bombed a quarter-century ago, and 50 yards from the tent where the
flamboyant leader receives dignitaries, a three-story complex had
become a mound of wiring and tangled concrete. Metal girders stuck out
from where the missile had sheared through the structure.

Journalists rummaging through the wreckage found
guidance and control parts consistent with a U.S.-made cruise missile.
One piece said it had been manufactured in 2006.

“This attack was in contradiction to what the
Americans and others have been saying, that it’s not a priority to hit
the leader,” government spokesman Musa Ibrahim said as crowds of Gadhafi supporters chanted, “Down, down, U.S.A.,” and, significantly, “Death to Sarkozy,” the French leader who has taken a very public role in the campaign.

Asked about the strike, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney told reporters, “At this particular point I can guarantee he is not on the targeting list.”

In a briefing at the Pentagon, he said it was
possible Gadhafi could be hit “if he happens to be in a place
inspecting a missile site and we don’t have any idea he is there at the
time” but that “we are not targeting his residence at this time.”

After the initial bombardments, the leader of the
Arab League, Amr Moussa, called the overnight campaign “excessive.” At
the same time, however, Arab League member state Qatar was moving fighter jets into position to begin flights patrolling over Libya.

In Brazil with President Barack Obama, national security adviser Tom Donilon said the U.S. military role is “very specific,” involving a limited
action meant to protect Libyan civilians from Gadhafi’s forces, which
have been advancing on the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The near-term goal of the military exercise is not
to force Gadhafi from power, White House officials said. Rather, the
administration hopes to “squeeze” him by isolating him diplomatically,
peeling away his support and imposing sanctions on his regime, they

It was only last summer that the U.S. declared an end to combat operations in Iraq. In Afghanistan,
where the U.S. is leading a nearly 10-year war that recent polls show
most Americans feel is no longer worth fighting, Obama has approved a
plan to keep fighting until at least 2014, with no guarantee that by
then the government in Kabul can handle security in the country.

But faced with the prospect of a humanitarian
disaster at Gadhafi’s hands, Obama found himself in the uncomfortable
position he has spent weeks trying to avoid: that of world policeman.

On Sunday, Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner asked Obama to clarify his objectives in Libya.
“Before any further military commitments are made, the administration
must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to
Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved,” Boehner said in a statement.

Indiana Republican Sen. Richard G. Lugar repeated his call for a declaration of war by Congress that would lay
out a plan for the operations. “There always ought to be a plan for
what is going to proceed,” said Lugar, citing polls that the American
people don’t want to take on more expensive challenges when the nation
is already struggling with the budget, deficits and the economy. One
problem the administration faces is that even though Obama wants the
U.S. to play a supporting role in Libya — and, indeed, the first strike came from a French fighter jet — only the United States has the resources to launch the complex operations to clear Gadhafi’s air defenses.

But details about when and how the U.S. will hand over leadership of the operation were elusive.

“We do not know when we will be ready to do that
(hand over command) and we do not know what that structure will look
like,” Gortney said. “We are working very hard to define it.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Sunday that there were a couple of possibilities for future
leadership of the campaign. “One is British and French leadership.
Another is the use of NATO machinery,” Gates told reporters as he flew
to Russia.

Whether the United States would take further steps to assist the rebels in Libya “remains to be seen,” said Gates, who added that a partitioning of Libya
would only contribute to “enduring instability” in the region. The
rebels had swept westward from their eastern base before being chased
back to Benghazi by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

The U.S. and its allies had made the calculation
that a failure to intervene could mean a slaughter of civilians in
Benghazi, home to 700,000 and Libya’s
second-largest city, and escalated the attacks beyond just preparing
the ground for the implementation of a no-fly zone. Senior military
officials pointed to the phrase in the United Nations resolution that
authorizes the coalition to use “all necessary measures” to protect
civilians in Libya.

Gortney said Sunday that Benghazi was not completely
safe from attack by Gadhafi’s forces, “but it is certainly under less

Sunday’s attacks were carried out by 15 U.S. aircraft, including Marine Harrier jets deployed from an assault ship in the Mediterranean and three Air
Force B-2 stealth bombers that flew the 25-hour journey from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to drop 45 bombs, each weighing 2,000 pounds.

Meanwhile, the operation’s costs are mounting.
Senior Defense officials would not comment on how much the operation
has cost so far, saying they were focused on carrying out the mission
at hand.

But an independent report released this month by the
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimated that the
no-fly zone would cost at least $400 million to set up, and up to $100 million per week to enforce. Each Tomahawk missile costs more than $500,000, bringing the total price for Saturday night’s initial volley to at least $55 million.

“That’s what happens when everybody is cutting their
defense: We are going to have to provide the majority of the
resources,” said Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary for logistics under Reagan, who once called Gadhafi “the mad dog of the Middle East.”

Libyan authorities say more than five dozen people,
all of them civilians, have died in the air raids, but have not shown
evidence of extensive damage or civilian casualties.

In Tripoli,
authorities took journalists to what they described as the city’s
seaside “martyrs” cemetery in an attempt to substantiate the official
numbers of dead.

Journalists were met with the anger of hundreds of
protesters screaming anti-American slogans and chanting boisterously in
support of Gadhafi.

“There is no God but God and the martyr is the beloved of God,” they chanted.

But the visiting journalists found few of the ordinary characteristics of Middle East
funerals, including politically charged ceremonies for those who died
in battle. No burial processions were seen. There were no portraits of
the martyrs or grieving mothers lying beside the tombs of their loved

Instead, journalists were pummeled with
contradictory stories about the dead by sometimes stone-faced men
claiming to be relatives of the deceased. More than two dozen open
graves were present, but only one body, wrapped in a white Islamic
shroud and described as a young man named Ramadan Ashegani, could be seen placed into the dry earth.


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