No-fly Zone Stretches 621 Miles from Benghazi to Tripoli

Mar 21, 2011, 13:21 by David Hope

The no-fly zone over Libya will stretch 621 miles from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to Tripoli, a U.S. military leader said Monday.

"Our actions today are focused on extending the no-fly zone southward, then westward from Benghazi," U.S. Army Col. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, said during a military briefing. "With the growing capabilities of the coalition, I anticipate the no-fly zone will soon extend to Brega, Misurata and then to Tripoli. That's about 1,000 kilometers [621 miles], so it's a pretty wide area."

Coalition forces from the United States, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Qatar and Spain are participating in air and sea attacks on troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, Ham said.

"[Through] a variety of reports, we know that regime ground forces that were in the vicinity of Benghazi now possess little will or capability to resume offensive operations," the U.S. military official said.

He said the coalition forces are committed to conducting operations "with precision, with very high concern for civilian casualties, and with positive control of all of our forces."

During a briefing aboard Air Force One flying from Rio de Janeiro to Santiago, Chile, White House adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters the administration had anticipated Gadhafi using civilians as human shields.

"We take great care to avoid any civilian casualties," Rhodes said. "We undertake to be as careful as we can in our military operations."

Rhodes said he was unaware of any air attacks by Gadhafi forces on citizens since the coalition operation began Saturday.

Ham said military officials were developing a process to transfer the operations lead from the United States to another "designated headquarters."

Ham said coalition forces didn't know where Gadhafi was "nor have we expended any military effort" to locate him.

"We have expended considerable effort to degrade the Libyan regime's military command-and-control capability, and I think we've had some fairly significant effect in that regard," Ham said.

Gadhafi's compound was attacked Sunday because it has the capacity to exercise command over forces loyal to the longtime leader.

"This is a large compound � a pretty big place with lots of different buildings and facilities inside," Ham said. "[There is a] command-and-control facility that we are certain is a command-and-control facility, and we have multiple means that tell us that. And that's the facility that was attacked."

He stressed that "I have no mission to attack that person [Gadhafi] and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that."

Allied airstrikes against Libyan government forces were having mixed results, with rebels reporting a failed attempt to take Ajdabiya but success in Benghazi.

Rebel fighters trying to reclaim Ajdabiya said they were repelled Monday by rocket and tank fire from government troops controlling entrances to the city, The New York Times reported, saying there were conflicting reports about whether allies or rebels attacked troops loyal to leader Gadhafi.

Libyan opposition forces also said allied military action cleared the highway south of the de facto rebel headquarters of Benghazi, Voice of America reported.

Opposition sources in the western town of Misurata said government troops had encircled the town, using civilians as a shield against any attack by foreign forces. However, the accounts could not be verified independently, VOA said.

The British Defense Ministry said Monday British aircraft aborted a mission at the last minute after "further information came to light that identified a number of civilians within the intended target area," which was not named, the Times said.

As the allied aerial assault pressed ahead, criticism of the campaign grew worldwide, notably in Russia and China, which both abstained from voting on the U.N. resolution.

Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chairman, softened his tone about the airstrikes, saying, "We respect the Security Council's resolution and we have no conflict with the resolution, especially as it confirms that there is no invasion or occupation of Libyan territory."

On Sunday, Moussa had said he would call for an emergency league meeting to discuss the situation in the Arab world, and particularly Libya because the strikes were different from the league's desire of imposing a no-fly zone.

The Libyan government said 48 people, mostly women, children and clerics, died in allied attacks that began Saturday. However, those comments could not be independently confirmed, and have been disputed by Western military and diplomatic officials, CNN reported.

Source: UPI