Libyan Regime Forces Feel Effects of Coalition Attacks
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 28, 2011 Moammar Gadhafi’s forces are feeling the effects of the coalition attacking command and control centers and logistics hubs, as evidenced by the progress the Libyan opposition has made, the director of the Joint Staff said during a Pentagon briefing today.
Coalition aircraft – now including Air Force A-10 Warthogs and AC-130s – have attacked regime forces threatening civilians. They also have hit command and control centers, ammunition supply points, missile sites and radars.
On March 25, regime forces were outside Ajdabiyah and the city was contested, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney said. Today, opposition forces have control of Ajdabiyah and have pushed west to within 80 miles of Surt -- a strategic port on the Mediterranean.
Coalition officials believe Gadhafi’s troops are digging in and placing tanks and armored vehicles in and around the city, he said. Farther west, regime forces are digging in around Zintan, and fighting continues in Misrata.
Most of the targets hit in the last 24 hours were targets of opportunity, Gortney said. The coalition hit forces still attacking civilians and also the command and control nodes of the 32nd Brigade -- a loyal regime strike force allegedly commanded by one of Gadhafi’s sons and still attacking civilians.
The coalition flew 178 sorties over the past 24 hours with the majority being strike-related. The number of sorties continues to grow, “but the labor share [between U.S. and partner nations] is definitely evening out,” Gortney said.
Pilots from Belgium and Qatar have been flying missions, and 12 fighters from the United Arab Emirates will be joining the fight shortly, the admiral said. “U.S. military participation in this operation is … changing to one of support,” he said.
The USS Providence, a submarine that participated in the Tomahawk strikes against Libya, has finished its mission and will continue its patrol.
While the United States is still flying strike missions, “we are providing 80 percent of all air refueling, almost 75 percent of aerial surveillance hours and 100 percent of electronic warfare missions,” Gortney said.
NATO will assume command of the mission in the next few days. “The specifics are still being worked out,” he said. “The maritime embargo [transfer of command] was fairly easy and straight forward. They started taking on the no-fly mission … on Saturday morning, and we’ll see them taking the total mission, including the civilian protection mission, in the coming days.”
U.S. Africa Command chief Army Gen. Carter F. Ham is commanding now and will shift the command to Canadian Forces Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard. None of the commanders involved are anticipating any problems with that, Gortney noted.
“One of the benefits of transitioning to NATO is we’ve been working with NATO for many years, and we understand the command structure,” he said. “We exercise together, we operate in Afghanistan together, and that’s why we have tremendous confidence that we’re not going to drop the ball.”
Gortney said they haven’t received a single confirmed report of civilian casualties caused by the coalition. “We will continue to be just as precise as we can in keeping up the pressure on regime forces while protecting innocent civilians,” he said.