By Erika Niedowski - 03/21/11 10:38 AM EDT
American and European forces expanded their assault in Libya on Sunday, with airstrikes damaging the compound of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, as questions mounted about the scope and duration of U.S. involvement there.
Late Sunday, a cruise missile badly damaged the Libyan leader’s compound in Tripoli. The Associated Press reported that half the three-story administration building had been knocked down. Gadhafi’s whereabouts were not immediately known, but several hundred of his supporters were said to be in the compound, apparently acting as human shields.
U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the military's Joint Staff, stressed Sunday that the coalition is acting only to enforce the no-fly zone, under a mandate of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, and that Gadhafi is “not on any targeting list.”
“We are not going after Gadhafi,” Gortney said.
Officials characterized his compound as having "command and control" capabilities.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Sunday pressured President Obama to better explain the United States' objectives in Libya before proceeding with further military action.
He said the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to back those seeking “freedom from oppression and self-government for their people." And he called it "unacceptable and outrageous" for Gadhafi to use violence against his own people.
“The president is the commander in chief, but the administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America's role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished," Boehner said in a statement.
He added: "Before any further military commitments are made, the administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved.”
Under the War Powers Act, the president must inform Congress of any military resolution within 48 hours and limit military action to 60 days without further congressional approval.
Some Democrats have also called on Obama to seek approval from Congress, or at least lead a public debate on the intervention, which is being carried out by a broad coalition that includes both Western and Arab nations.
In a statement before the weekend airstrikes began, Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said, “As Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates and others have noted, military action is tantamount to an act of war, which would require substantial resources over a long period of time. Given our current fiscal constraints, and our military’s current responsibilities, this truly deserves a robust debate before we commit our young men and women in uniform.
“If that means calling members of Congress back from the district work period for a joint session, then that’s what we should do," Larson said. "It is imperative that members of Congress, as the direct representatives of our constituents, have the opportunity to weigh in before decisions are made.
“Using our military against another nation, even a brutal regime like Col. Gadhafi, requires that Congress both be informed and exercise our constitutional authority.”
Vice President Biden made calls on Sunday to two Arab League member states, seeking to reaffirm support after that group's head criticized the strikes over the weekend, saying they had caused civilian casualties and outstripped the U.N. mandate. The extent of any casualties is not known.
According to the White House, Biden made calls to Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad of Kuwait "as part of the ongoing consultations on the coalition action to fulfill United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973."
The head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said Monday that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were among those Arab nations that are part of the international coalition striking Libya, and insisted the mission is to protect citizens.
"What is happening now is not an intervention. It is about protecting the people from bloodshed," said Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah, secretary general of the GCC, according to the AP.
Speaking Sunday from Brazil during a five-day overseas trip, Obama said military intervention in Libya was "not our first choice," but that the U.S. "cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his own people there will be no mercy."
Several senators took to the airwaves on Sunday to support the U.S. involvement, but suggested it came late and might not be enough.
"He waited too long. There is no doubt about it in my mind, but it is what it is," Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” "Now, a no-fly zone is not enough. There needs to be other efforts made."
Speaking on CBS's “Face the Nation,” Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it seems regime change is in store for Libya. But he questioned how that objective would be achieved with the limited mission by the U.S. military.
"How do you do that? The president has been very clear on that. No ground troops. No American boots on the ground," Lugar said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was more direct.
"I am very worried we are taking a backseat rather than a leadership role," he said on “Fox News Sunday.” "Isolate, strangle and replace this man. That should be our goal."
John T. Bennett, Jordan Fabian, Jamie Klatell and Sam Youngman contributed to this article.