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US: Gadhafi's Air Defenses Now Largely Ineffective

Suzanne Presto | Washington March 22, 2011

A U.S. defense official said the jet that crashed in Libya late Monday was targeting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's missile capabilities. U.S. Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, spoke to reporters by phone from the USS Mount Whitney in the Mediterranean Sea.

Admiral Locklear said both Air Force crew members are safe after they ejected from their F-15 jet, which malfunctioned over eastern Libya Monday night. "One crew member was recovered by coalition forces. The other crew member was recovered by the people of Libya. He was treated with dignity and respect and is now in the care of the United States," he said.

The admiral said the pilots were assigned to conduct a strike mission against the Libyan government's missile capabilities, in compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

That resolution calls for a ceasefire and an immediate end to violence against the Libyan people. It also authorizes States to take "all necessary measures" to enforce a No Fly Zone in order to protect civilians.

Locklear said cruise missile attacks accompanied by coalition air strikes have rendered Mr. Gadhafi's long-range air defenses and air force largely ineffective. He said the No Fly Zone is expanding, paving the way for humanitarian assistance efforts.

"It's my judgment, however, that despite our successes to date, that Gadhafi and his forces are not yet in compliance with the United Nations Security Council resolution, due to the continued aggressive actions his forces are taking against the civilian population of Libya," he said.

Admiral Locklear confirmed Libyan troops are attacking civilians in Misurata. Opposition sources in that western town have accused government forces of using civilians as shields, but those accounts could not be independently verified.

So far, Locklear said, coalition forces have pushed Libyan troops from the eastern city of Benghazi. But Mr. Gadhafi has not complied with U.S. President Barack Obama's demands to withdraw his troops from the coastal cities of Zawiyah, Ajdabiya and Misurata.

"If Colonel Gadhafi would meet that requirement but have a cease-fire implemented, stop all attacks against citizens and withdraw from the places that we've told him to withdraw, establish water, electricity, and gas supplies to all areas, and allow humanitarian assistance, then the fighting would stop. Our job would be over," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters in Moscow that coalition forces have been very careful to avoid civilian casualties. He added that nearly all air defense sites being targeted are isolated in unpopulated areas.

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