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Allied forces strike Gadhafi compound; leader’s whereabouts unknown

Tripoli, Libya (CNN): The heart of Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli lay in shambles Monday as the United States and allies continued their mission to dilute the Libyan leader’s strength. But Gadhafi’s whereabouts — and his plans after promising a “long-drawn war” — remained unknown.

A coalition military official insisted neither Gadhafi nor his residence were intended targets of the bombing late Sunday. But the official — who was not being identified because of the sensitivity of the information — said the compound was targeted because it contained capabilities to exercise command and control over Libyan forces.

U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney reinforced the coalition’s objective.

“We are not going after Gadhafi,” he said at a Pentagon press briefing. “Regime forces are more pressed and less free to maneuver.”

Asked about reports of smoke rising from the area of Gadhafi’s palace, Gortney said, “We are not targeting his residence.”

Western journalists, including CNN’s Nic Robertson, were taken inside the compound by Libyan officials to survey the destruction.

Robertson reported a four-story building was heavily damaged, possibly by cruise missiles. He held a chunk of metal retrieved from the site — with writing in English — that appeared to be from a missile.

A Libyan government official said the building was used by Gadhafi officials and said there were no casualties from the building.

The building is only 100 yards or so from a statue of a golden fist crushing a model plane emblazoned with “USA” — a monument to the 1986 American bombing of Libya, in which a U.S. plane was shot down.

Near Benghazi — the heart of the Libyan opposition forces — coalition forces pounded a Libyan military convoy. At least 70 vehicles — including armored personnel carriers and tanks — were destroyed in eastern Libya.

The Libyan military called for an immediate cease-fire Sunday after the Benghazi attack and, according to U.S. officials, the regime’s air defenses were significantly degraded. But some doubted the regime’s call, as people inside and outside Libya have said Gadhafi’s regime has ignored a cease-fire in the past.

When asked about the possibility of trying to kill Gadhafi to end his regime, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said it would be “unwise” to set specific goals about targeting Gadhafi directly during attacks.

“I think that it’s important that we operate within the mandate of the U.N. Security Council resolution,” Gates told reporters Sunday while on a plane to Russia. “If we start adding additional objectives, then I think we create a problem in that respect. I also think that it is unwise to set as specific goals, things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

The Security Council resolution, which passed Thursday, allows member states “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country … while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory,” according to the United Nations.

But not all countries agree with foreign attacks in Libya. The Russian government said the mission has killed innocent civilians and urged more caution. The foreign ministry in Moscow cited reports that “nonmilitary” targets were being bombed, including a cardiac center. China and Venezuela have also spoken out against the airstrikes.

The Libyan government has claimed that 48 people, mostly women, children and clerics, have died in allied attacks.

However, Gortney said, “We have no indication of any civilian casualties.”

Ahmed Gebreel, a member of the Libyan opposition, told CNN the Gadhafi government collected bodies of people killed in fighting in the past week and displayed them over the weekend, trying to show they were killed by coalition airstrikes.

U.S. officials said they plan to hand over operational control of the military mission in coming days. The coalition has nine other announced partners: Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Qatar and Spain.

Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa told reporters Sunday that what is happening in Libya is different from what was intended by imposing a no-fly zone, according to Egypt’s al-Ahram newspaper.

“What we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians,” he said.

He added that “military operations may not be needed in order to protect the civilians.”

But Arab League chief of staff Hisham Youssef said Moussa’s comments did not signify a shift by the organization.

“The Arab League position has not changed. We fully support the implementation of a no-fly zone,” Youssef said. “Our ultimate aim is to end the bloodshed and achieve the aspirations of the Libyan people.”

As of Sunday night, the United States and British military had fired a total of 124 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libya’s air defense sites, Gortney said.

In a televised speech earlier Sunday, Gadhafi said the strikes were a confrontation between the Libyan people and “the new Nazis,” and promised “a long-drawn war.”

“You have proven to the world that you are not civilized, that you are terrorists — animals attacking a safe nation that did nothing against you,” Gadhafi said.

But many in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi expressed gratitude for the foreign intervention, saying they eventually would have been massacred if not for the operation.

Some said with the new international support, they can advance their mission to overthrow Gadhafi to the nation’s capital –and take the offensive against loyalist troops.

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