Tripoli, Libya (VoA News): Western forces launched a second round of missile strikes on forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi Sunday in an effort to drive back their offensive against rebel-held cities.
The U.S. military says the bombardment of Tomahawk cruise missiles and air strikes has significantly degraded Gadhafi’s air defences.
The U.S. has been carrying out the attacks with Britain, France and other allies to enforce a U.N.-authorized no-fly zone. The no-fly zone is aimed at protecting Libyan civilians from attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces trying to crush a month-long uprising against his 42-year rule.
U.S. officials say the Libyan leader himself is not a target, although an administrative building in Gadhafi’s residential compound in the capital, Tripoli, was reported damaged in a missile attack late Sunday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington expects to turn control of the mission in Libya over to a coalition – probably headed by the French and British or NATO – within days.
Gates said the U.S. will be a member of the coalition, but will not have “the preeminent role.” He made the comments to reporters traveling with him to Russia, which is opposed to the international military strikes.
U.S. President Barack Obama will take questions from reporters Monday for the first time since the allied assault began, during a joint press conference in Chile.
Gadhafi has denounced the international military action as colonial crusader aggression and vowed to defeat foreign forces. He said his government has opened arms depots to Libyans to enable them to fight.
Heavy anti-aircraft fire erupted in Tripoli Sunday night.
In addition to targeting anti-aircraft sites, allied warplanes also targeted Libyan ground forces, destroying dozens of tanks near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Libyan state television said the airstrikes and missiles have killed at least 64 people, including children, and wounded about 150. But the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said he has seen no evidence of civilian casualties from the operation.
The U.S. military said Sunday that Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Qatar have joined the coalition against Gadhafi. Qatar is the first Arab nation to do so.
Obama called King Abdullah of Jordan to emphasize the importance of a broad international effort in the Libyan campaign.
The air and missile strikes represent the biggest international military operation in the Middle East since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The U.N. Security Council passed the resolution Thursday authorizing the no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.