NATO air attacks to expand in Libya
Regime buildings are part of new plan
WASHINGTON – Frustrated at their inability to break the military deadlock in Libya and to stop the shelling of civilian areas, NATO commanders are expanding their air war by launching strikes against military command facilities and other regime buildings used by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his top aides.
NATO officials said the escalation, supported by armed U.S. Predator drones, is meant to sever Gadhafi’s communication and supply links with army units battling the rebellion based in eastern Libya. But privately, some NATO officials say the goal is to strike directly at the pillars of the regime, including Gadhafi, in the heart of Tripoli.
“This is a shift, absolutely,” a senior NATO officer said Tuesday. “We’re picking up attacks on these command-and-control facilities. If he happens to be in one of those buildings, all the better.”
U.S. and other NATO officials, however, denied that the stepped-up campaign, which included strikes this week on a state TV facility and on one of Gadhafi’s residential compounds, both in Tripoli, was aimed at killing Gadhafi.
“We are not targeting him specifically, but we do consider command-and-control targets to be legitimate targets wherever we find them,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday after meeting with British Defense Minister Liam Fox.
Fox said there are growing signs that Gadhafi’s hold on power was weakening.
“We have received reports of underage soldiers and foreign mercenaries being captured; this underlines the regime’s inability to rely on its own security forces,” Fox said. “These are the tactics of an increasingly desperate and weak regime.”
Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, the Canadian commander of the operation, told reporters in a video briefing from Naples, Italy, that the latest airstrikes were “not about individuals” and “not about regime change.”
Other NATO officers said that, even if Gadhafi isn’t killed, bombing the facilities that he and his security services use could spook him and persuade him to negotiate a transfer of power or flee into exile.