Gadhafi's forces show little sign of pulling back, officials say

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces have shown little sign of pulling back since the bombing campaign began on Saturday, a top U.S. commander said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, U.S. and coalition forces have increased their attacks on military units loyal to Gadhafi with officials claiming the coalition now has total control of Libyan skies.

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“Any [Libyan] aircraft that has attempted to take off” or reached the sky “has been either destroyed” or put down by coalition forces, Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, chief of staff of Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, told reporters via telephone during a Pentagon briefing.

“We are putting pressure on pro-Gadhafi forces that are threatening ... Libyan population centers,” he noted.

Hueber said that Gadhafi’s troops have shown little signs of pulling back from major cities such as Benghazi and Misurata. Until Gadhafi’s forces do that, U.S. and coalition commanders will consider individual units “not in compliance with U.N. Resolution 1973.”

Coalition officials are using aircraft and other weaponry to enforce the United Nations-backed no-fly zone and to take out Libyan military units that are firing at civilians or seeking entry into several major population hubs, Hueber said.

U.S. and allied commanders made the decision that those pro-Gadhafi forces had to be targeted based on intelligence showing the units using tanks, artillery and rocket launchers “to target civilians,” the task force official said.

Heber said several times during the 30-minute session that commanders are launching those strikes, which go beyond keeping Libyan military aircraft from striking civilians and rebel forces, under the terms of the U.N. endorsing the mission and recent public remarks made by President Obama.

During the 24-hour period that ended early this morning, the allied force had flown 176 combat sorties. Of that number, the U.S. military is still carrying the load: 113 were flown by American jets, with other nations’ aircraft flying the remaining 63.

Senior U.S. defense officials have said that as more allied nations move their aircraft into theater, they will take over the majority of no-fly zone sorties.

Just hours earlier in Washington, the Navy’s top admiral dismissed congressional critiques that the White House and Pentagon moved ahead with military operations in Libya without a clearly defined mission.

Echoing comments made this week by Obama administration and other military officials, Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said the mission has three parts: maintain a no-fly zone, “prevent the killing of innocent Libyans," and help get humanitarian assistance into Libya.

Pressed by The Hill during a breakfast in Washington on whether the latter two became part of the mission after the onset of operations Saturday, Roughead replied: “We knew those things going in. There has been no change, from my perspective.”

Republicans and Democrats alike this week have issued a steady drumbeat of criticism about the mission, with many saying the president decided to intervene militarily without a congressional green light unconstitutional. They also contend Obama and his team have failed to clearly define U.S. goals for the mission.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is planning a hearing next week on the matter, the first formal congressional inquiry into the 5-day-old military campaign.
 
A senior committee aide told The Hill on Wednesday that the committee's chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), was eyeing holding a hearing when Congress returns from recess. The hearing “is still in the planning stages,” the aide said.

Obama and other administration officials have defined the mission as “limited” in scope and duration — with no ground troops — and the president said he was within his constitutional authority to call for it.

At several points during the Pentagon briefing, Hueber recited the three missions highlighted by Roughead and two senior officers before him this week.

All three things are mentioned in the resolution the U.N. Security Council approved last Thursday, by a 10-0 vote with five abstentions.

Roughead told reporters the Navy had its ships in the region already and began moving them into position for the Libyan mission about two weeks ago.

The Navy chief also downplayed the effects of the operation on his service’s long-term budget outlook.

“Given the fact our [naval] forces were already there, it’s a sunk cost for me,” Roughead said.

The Navy shifted some EA-18 Growlers, Boeing-made fighter jets designed for electronic warfare missions, from Iraq to the Libyan region.

While “we increased flying hours for that … those Growlers would have been flying in Iraq anyway,” he explained.

The Navy buys the 200 or so ship-launched Tomahawk missiles that have been pounding Libyan targets, but there are plenty more where those came from, Roughead said.

The Navy has about 3,000 Tomahawks in its inventory, he told reporters following the breakfast, meaning there will be no urgent need to spend new funds to replace ones fired in recent days.

It is still too soon to know whether the Pentagon will require a second emergency spending bill to cover its Libya costs, the CNO said. But when asked if he was turning down the idea of one in the future, Roughead said: “No, I am not.”

-- Russell Berman contributed to this report.