Late Night Update: Libya

The “allied forces” have been bombing targets in Libya for a second day. Gaddafi is outraged and has issued multiple threats. Meanwhile, here at home there is quite a bit of criticism of the President’s decision to participate in the UN action.

The Guardian has a pretty detailed description of events in Libya over the past couple of days: “Coalition attacks wreak havoc on ground troops.” I’m leaving out the bloodthirsty-sounding paragraphs–you can read them if you choose.

The barrage of attacks led by France, Britain and the US on Libya’s army, air bases and other military targets drew threats of a prolonged war from Gaddafi himself. But on the ground many of his forces were in disarray and fleeing in fear of further attacks from a new and unseen enemy.

The air assault halted and then reversed the advances by Gaddafi’s army on Benghazi and other rebel-held towns. But the revolutionary leadership wanted more. On Sunday it appealed for an intensification of the air assault to destroy the Libyan ruler’s forces and open the way for the rebels to drive him from power.

The air bombardment is regarded among rebel military commanders as creating a more level battle field by removing Gaddafi’s advantage of heavy armour.

“There must be more attacks, to destroy his forces and heavy weapons,” said Kamal Mustafa Mahmoud, a rebel soldier on the edge of Benghazi. “Then they can leave Gaddafi to us. We know how to fight him but we are afraid of his heavy weapons. I want them to destroy the ground forces of Gaddafi.”

Quite a few people in the US have problems with that notion. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has opposed the U.S. getting involved in the Libyan uprising had a few words of warning today.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. military campaign against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi should be limited to the terms of a United Nations resolution rather than being broadened to target the leader directly.

The coalition with the U.K., France and Arab countries relies on the terms laid out in the UN Security Council resolution adopted last week, Gates told reporters traveling with him to Russia today on a trip he delayed yesterday so he could monitor the start of “Operation Odyssey Dawn.” The resolution backed military action to prevent Qaddafi from using his forces to attack fellow Libyans.

“If we start adding additional objectives, then I think we create a problem in that respect,” Gates said. “I also think that it is unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

Here’s a bit more from Gates:

Gates said the mission is backed by a diverse coalition, and adding additional objectives to the mission “create a problem in that respect.” He also said “it’s unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”

Gates said most nations in the region want to see Libya remain a unified state, and “having states in the region begin to break up because of internal differences, I think, is a formula for real instability in the future.”

The Pentagon chief also cautioned against getting too involved in the internal conflict of that country, saying the internal conflict should be left to be resolved by Libyans themselves.

After Gates made these remarks, Pentagon spokesman Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney said that there is no plan to directly attempt to oust Gaddafi. Gortney:

“I can guarantee that he’s not on the targeting list.”

Gortney said Khadafy’s forces were already beginning to crumble, but stressed that the focus of the campaign remains protecting civilians, not taking out the despot.

In addition,

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen acknowledged that Khadafy might remain in power when the mission is over.

“It’s hard to know exactly how this turns out,” Mullen said on CBS. “I recognise that’s a possibility.”

Today French and British forces did “expand” the bombing campaign, and actually targeted a building within Gaddafi’s private compound. Read more below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »