3 questions US forces must answer before declaring victory in Libya

Even as fighting in Libya continues, Pentagon officials and US commanders overseeing operations on the ground are wrestling with tough questions about the future of the campaign – and what military forces still need to do before they can consider it a victory.

3. Will the military target Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi if he doesn’t surrender soon?

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    Anti-Qaddafi fighters drive back from the frontline in Bani Walid, Libya, on Sept. 12.
    Youssef Boudlal/Reuters
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Mr. Qaddafi certainly hasn’t relinquished power, and remains in control of some loyalist troops, though these forces continue to dwindle to a “significantly smaller number of regime loyalists,” General Ham says.

Despite some debate about whether this fact makes him a legitimate military target, the US military has no intention of trying to deliberately kill him, Ham stresses. “It seems to me that his ability to influence day-to-day activities has largely been eliminated. Probably not completely eliminated – but pretty significantly.”

But troops have no intention of sparing his life on purpose if he happens to be near a facility that US or NATO forces were planning to strike. “If we had some indication that [Qaddafi] was present at this facility, it wouldn’t have a significant impact on our decision to strike or not strike,” Ham says.

What’s more, there are opportunity costs to waging a military manhunt, Ham adds, even as Qaddafi remains at large. “My sense as a military guy is that the level of resources necessary to find and focus ... and try to target him would be considerable,” he says. “To look for an individual is a really complicated business and it would detract very significantly from the other military requirements that we are trying to meet.”

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