Saturday, March 26, 2011

Coalition Air Operations Take on Gadhafi's Forces

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - The coalition struck a number of targets in Libya with air operations flown to protect the Libyan people from Moammar Gadhafi's forces, the director of the Joint Staff said today.

Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney briefed Pentagon reporters on the latest developments in the United Nations-ordered operation.

Many strikes went after Gadhafi regime armored forces outside Ajdabiyah, a city south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Gortney said. The coalition also hit more command and control facilities in and around Tripoli and launched 16 more Tomahawk strikes against targets that included Scud missile garrisons in Tripoli and air defense systems around Sabha, he added.

In the last 24 hours, coalition aircraft flew 153 sorties, with 96 of those being strikes. "Slightly more than half of those strike missions were flown by U.S. pilots," the admiral said. Partner nations flew all of the no-fly zone enforcement missions.

NATO has agreed to take on the no-fly zone enforcement mission, and officials at the alliance's headquarters in Belgium named Canadian air force Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard to lead Operation Unified Protector. The operation covers enforcing the U.N.-mandated arms embargo and no-fly zone. Bouchard is stationed in Naples, Italy, at the Allied Joint Force Command.

Gortney said it is possible that NATO may take over the last part of the U.N. mission, which is protecting Libyan civilians from Gadhafi's forces.

Partner nations are taking on more missions, and the division of labor between U.S. and partner nations has evened out, the admiral said. As operations continue, the United States will fly most refueling, surveillance, information operations and jamming missions, he added.

"The coalition is working very hard to make it very hard for Colonel Gadhafi and his troops to kill their own citizens and destroy property," Gortney said. "But that is ... a delicate mission."

The U.N. charged the coalition with protecting the people of Libya, the admiral noted, adding that nothing the coalition can do could put the people at greater risk than the risk they face at the hands of Gadhafi's regime.

"What we must focus on is limiting the regime's ability to inflict the harm by squeezing it and denying it the tools to do so, and we believe we are achieving success in that regard," Gortney said.