US eases off in Libya, Gadhafi holds on

Updated: 2011-04-06 07:19

(China Daily)

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WASHINGTON - Two weeks after a dark-of-night barrage of mostly US missiles and bombs opened the international air assault on Libya, the US combat role is ending, the rag-tag rebels are reeling and the Pentagon is betting its European allies can finish the job.

Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi is still standing, with a few uncertain signs that his inner circle could crack. The Obama administration is hoping that if Gadhafi's government doesn't implode soon, a relentless campaign of air strikes on his tanks, air defenses and most trusted army units will at least weaken his ability to survive a renewed uprising by a disjointed opposition. The rebels initially rattled Gadhafi but in recent days have given up most of their gains.

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The bottom line, according to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "He's still killing his people."

So the mission remains incomplete, but the US is following through on a pledge to shift the main combat burden to Britain, France and other NATO allies.

After Saturday, no US combat aircraft were to fly strike missions over Libya unless NATO officials specifically asked and authorities in Washington gave their approval. NATO assumed full control last week from the US-led international force for all aspects of the operation in Libya as authorized by UN resolutions that include an arms embargo, enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians from Gadhafi's forces.

But on Sunday, the US agreed to NATO's request for a 48-hour extension of American participation in coalition air strikes against targets in Libya.

In an e-mailed statement, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Sunday that "poor weather conditions over the last few days" were the reason the alliance made the request. She would not elaborate. "This is a short-term extension which expires on Monday," she said.

A senior US military official said heavy cloud cover over Libya late last week curtailed allied air strikes. Gadhafi took advantage of the lull, pushing east into the port cities of Ras Lanouf and Brega, the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military planning.

The 48-hour extension is intended to roll back the progress made by Gadhafi's army, the official said.

Associated Press


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