Air attacks go on; Gadhafi remains defiant

March 23, 2011 at 7:29 AM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, March 23 (UPI) -- Explosions rocked the Libyan capital Wednesday as the allied air and sea assault continued and leader Moammar Gadhafi pledged victory.

While there is a large military installation in the area, U.S. officials said allied forces' airstrikes didn't "specifically target anything" in Tripoli, CNN reported.

Military officials said airstrikes by British, French and U.S. forces have largely incapacitated Gadhafi's long-range air defenses, but witnesses said Gadhafi loyalists on the ground maintained their attacks on rebel-held cities.

"Tanks and snipers are in the center of the city," one person in Misurata told CNN. "The people are living in a state of fear. Electricity has been cut off. Water has been cut off."

Medical personnel said at least 90 people have died in the last five days of fighting in Misurata. As of a couple of weeks ago, international relief groups put the death toll around 2,000, but claims of victims coming from sources within Libya cannot be independently verified.

U.S. Rear Adm. Peg Klein said he was authorized to shell Gadhafi tanks advancing on Misurata, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported on a live feed.

"Some of those cities still have tanks advancing on them to attack the Libyan people," Klein said. "We are authorized, and [President Obama] made the nexus between the Security Council resolution and what he considers our legal mandate to attack those tanks. So that is the type of target that our strike aircraft will go at."

Gadhafi vowed to win the war.

"We will not give up," he said Tuesday on state-run media. "They will not terrorize us. We are making fun of their rockets. The Libyans are laughing at these rockets. We will defeat them by any method."

NATO defense ministers were to vote Wednesday on a command structure that would direct the alliance-run day-to-day military operations while an ad hoc committee of ministers makes political decisions, reported. The decision was reached during telephone conference involving U.S., French and British leaders Tuesday.

The United States has been working to hand control of the operation to an international coalition sooner rather than later.

Under the proposed set-up, the NATO command center in Mons, Belgium, would make military decisions on the maritime and no-fly blockades while the new committee of foreign ministers would have overall political control, reported.

U.S. Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, said since the air and sea assault operation began Saturday, U.S. and allied forces have launched 162 Tomahawk missiles and conducted more than 100 attacks with precision-guided satellite bombs, The Washington Post reported. Locklear is commander of the allied task force enforcing the U.N. resolution that authorized the military action in Libya.

He said, however, airstrikes haven't been able to halt attacks by Libyan government forces against civilians.

"They are conducting attacks against civilians in Misurata in violation of the Security Council resolution," Locklear said, adding that allied commanders were "considering all options" to halt attacks by Libyan forces.

In an interview with ABC News, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intimated Tuesday the Gadhafi and some of his close advisers may be searching for a way to leave Libya.

"We've heard about other people close to him reaching out to people that they know around the world -- Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America, beyond -- saying what do we do? How do we get out of this? What happens next?" Clinton said.

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