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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.

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On Sunday, US Navy EA-18G radar jammers began flying over Libya as part of the effort to enforce the no-fly zone. In addition, US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jets, which can take off and land vertically, were launched against ground targets from the amphibious ship USS Kearsarge in the Mediterranean. US Air Force F-15s, F-16s, and B-2 stealth bombers reportedly were involved in the US-coordinated effort to establish air superiority and prevent Libyan army attacks on civilians.

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French and British fighters continued to fly combat missions as part of what some are describing as a “shock and awe” attempt to bring about collapse of Qaddafi’s regime – a controversial reference to the early days of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which failed to bring about the quick resolution that Bush administration officials had boasted about.

From the start, US officials have stressed that the US role this time would be “supportive” of other countries in a coalition that includes Canada, European nations, and at least rhetorical support from some Arab countries.

“Leading it now, we’re looking to hand off that leadership in the next few days,” Mullen said.

Some have criticized President Obama for going ahead with a trip to Latin American just as the US was going to war in a third Muslim nation. But Obama has kept a close eye on the Libya situation.

According to the White House, Obama had a secure conference call Sunday morning with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Army Gen. Carter Ham (head of the US Africa Command), and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough.

This is not the first time that the US has conducted air attacks against Libya.

Following the 1986 bombing of a German disco, which killed two American servicemen and injured dozens more – and which was blamed on Libya, based on intercepted messages – then-president Ronald Reagan ordered retaliatory strikes against Tripoli and Benghazi.

Qaddafi survived the attack on his compound, but scores of other people were killed, including the Libyan leader’s young daughter. Twelve years later, Libyan agents under orders from Qaddafi planted a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103. The explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people on the passenger jetliner and on the ground.

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