With no-fly zone in Libya now, US-led coalition freer to attack
Missile attacks on Libyan air defenses have freed US jets to attack ground targets. But questions remain, including the use of human shields and the chance that Qaddafi might remain in power.
Saturday’s barrage of ship-based Tomahawk cruise missiles effectively established a no-fly zone, Joint Chiefs of Staffs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said Sunday.
This has allowed US fighters and radar jammers to fly over Libya, continuing the hunt for air defense facilities as well as tanks, artillery, and other Libyan army forces threatening rebel forces and other civilians. US pilots apparently are safe now from the long-range, high-altitude surface-to-air missiles that might have resulted in downed pilots becoming prisoners of war.
Many key questions remain, however, Adm. Mullen acknowledged on several Sunday morning television news programs.
What happens if civilians loyal to Muammar Qaddafi in effect become human shields, surrounding potential military targets or the Libyan leader’s compound? What happens if the US-led coalition prevails militarily but Qaddafi remains in place? And what happens if Qaddafi is killed or leaves Libya but the country fractures along tribal lines?
"How this ends from the political standpoint, I just can't say," Mullen said on CNN's "State of the Union."
President Obama has pledged that no US ground troops will be involved in the UN-sanctioned effort. But if the fight moves into urban areas, that makes attacks from the air (or from ship-based cruise missiles) much more difficult if civilian casualties are to be avoided.
Libyan state television reported Sunday that 48 people had been killed in the initial attacks Saturday. That could not be confirmed since western reporters were not allowed to visit targeted areas or hospitals.
So far, Qaddafi remains defiant against what he calls “foreign colonialism.”
“We are going to fight, we are going to fight for every square of our land,” he said on Libyan state radio. “We will go as martyrs.”
After Saturday’s attacks, the next step was conducting bomb-damage assessment.
The first major strike involved 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from US Navy ships (and one British submarine) against SA-5 Russian-made surface-to-air missiles, early warning sites, and key communication modes.