Coalition presses Gaddafi’s forces to stop fighting

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The coalition enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya hammered Muammar Gaddafi’s military with Tomahawk cruise missiles and air strikes as it pressed its demand for his supporters to stop fighting and halt attacks on civilians, U.S. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said on Thursday.

Gortney, director of the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, said the coalition fired 14 Tomahawk missiles overnight and flew 130 sorties.

In addition to policing the no-fly zone, they targeted an air defense site near Tripoli, a Scud missile battery in the south and Gaddafi’s troops maneuvering near Misrata and Ajdabiya, he said.

Forty-nine of the sorties were air strikes against specific targets while the remainder were patrols enforcing the no-fly zone. U.S. aircraft flew roughly half of the total sorties by the 11-member coalition.

Gortney said the campaign included more than 350 aircraft, 38 ships at sea and thousands of military personnel. Non-U.S. planes flew about 75 percent of the no-fly patrol sorties.

“It is fair to say that the coalition is growing in both size and capability every day,” he told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon.

Gortney said the U.S. military was readying to hand control of the operation to another command structure, as promised by President Barack Obama. NATO countries appeared to be moving closer to an agreement on taking command, but the arrangements were still being finalized.

“We are working very hard on the military side to be able to hand over the lead of this operation to a coalition command structure as early as this weekend,” Gortney said.

He said the coalition was “using every tool that we have available in our toolkit” to convince Gaddafi’s military to cease fire and stop attacking civilians, but he said he was “not aware of any” who had heeded their demands.

Gortney warned that the coalition would “continue to conduct coordinated attacks on regime ground forces that threaten the lives of the Libyan people.”

“When and where regime forces threaten the lives of their own citizens, they will be attacked. When and where regime forces fly combat aircraft or fire at coalition aircraft, they will be attacked,” he said.

“Our message to the regime troops is simple: Stop fighting. Stop killing your own people. Stop obeying the orders of Col. Gaddafi,” Gortney said. “To the degree that you defy these demands we will continue to hit you and make it more difficult for you to keep going.”

(Editing by David Storey)

Coalition presses Gaddafi’s forces to stop fighting