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Allied Mission Escalates As Gadhafi Strikes Back
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Allied Mission Escalates As Gadhafi Strikes Back

Middle East

Allied Mission Escalates As Gadhafi Strikes Back

Allied Mission Escalates As Gadhafi Strikes Back
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Coalition warplanes are striking Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces in Libya. Host Liane Hansen talks to NPR Correspondent Tom Gjelten about what to expect next.

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

NPR's Tom Gjelten has been tracking the military campaign by the international coalition. He's in the studio with the latest. Hi, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN: Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Give us an update on what new military strikes have taken place today.

GJELTEN: More airstrikes today, Liane. And these are airstrikes. These are U.S. and French pilots flying over Libya and dropping bombs. Not cruise missiles strikes like we saw yesterday. These are U.S. and French pilots. Their targets are, once again, air defense installations, but for the first time we're seeing them now - we have reports that they are now hitting ground forces as well.

So, still working on the air defense system, but we now have the first - at least U.S. airstrikes against ground targets.

HANSEN: And this has been moving along in phases. What's expected next?

GJELTEN: Well, once the air defense system is totally taken out, which means the U.S. commanders feel safe, feel that it's safe for U.S. pilots to fly around Libya - U.S. and international pilots - then we're going to see patrols established, where you're going to have constant patrolling by air all over Libya to make sure that nothing happens against the civilians. That hasn't really put in place yet. That's the next phase.

HANSEN: What about the end game? I mean, is there one? What's the objective?

GJELTEN: This is a really important question, and the answer is not clear yet. And to think about - let's back up a little bit. Both the French and the U.S. governments have said that Moammar Gadhafi has lost legitimacy as a leader. Now those are important words coming from heads of state. It means they can't deal with him as a government anymore. And it would certainly suggest that the end game is that he has to go.

HILLARY CLINTON: We do believe that a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gadhafi to leave.

GJELTEN: To leave. So he has to leave. Now, how do you get Gadhafi to leave? That's what's not clear. The U.N. resolution calls only for protecting civilians. Secretary Clinton in Paris yesterday was asked how this mission will get Gadhafi to leave. And then she said it would create conditions under which people around Gadhafi would rethink their loyalty to him. Essentially, defect.

Now, that would, of course, bring about an end to his government. It could very well happen, but you can't guarantee it. It's a hope.

HANSEN: This is a very specifically focused limited military mission to create the no-fly zone, to ensure that we protect the civilians in Libya and provide for the humanitarian support. How this ends, from the political standpoint, I just can't say. I'm very focused now on the near-term military mission as has been given to me by President Obama.

GJELTEN: So, you know, Liane, all the controversy over the years about the need for an exit strategy when you get into a war, we don't see it right now. It's unclear where this is going.

HANSEN: He referred to these operations as being limited. I mean, really? What are the limits to this kind of strike? At some point, realistically, do ground troops have to be deployed?

GJELTEN: Well, if the people around Gadhafi do not defect, do not abandon him, and the commanders of this operation - the heads of state behind the coalition that's leading it - if they decide that it has to go ahead until Gadhafi's out of power, I think the only way that you could ensure that is by ground forces taking on his troops. Those would not necessarily be U.S. or foreign forces. In fact, they could be this rebel movement that is out there. But I think in that case you'd have to talk about arming them. That's something that nobody wants to talk about yet. However, I will say, Liane, that they say - U.S. officials say - that the U.N. resolution does not preclude the possibility of arming those rebels and sending them into battle. That would in effect set up an civil war in Libya; not a pleasant thought.

HANSEN: What about the other Arab nations? Do they have a role in the military campaign at all? I mean, even tactical support or logistics?

GJELTEN: The most important role that they play is a political role. I mean, it was the Arab League that first endorsed the idea of a no-fly zone and U.S. officials have made it clear that it was only because they got that Arab support that they were willing to go ahead with that. And Arab states were represented at the meeting in Paris yesterday, where Secretary Clinton met with a number of them.

There's been speculation that we could see actual combat missions flown by Arab pilots. The United Arab Emirates, for example, has a very modern air force, with very skilled pilots. Other Arab countries as well could take part. But so far no indication of much eagerness on the part of Arab states to take part militarily in this operation.

HANSEN: NPR's Tom Gjelten. Thank you very much, Tom.

GJELTEN: It's good to be here, Liane.

HANSEN: Our coverage of the military action in Libya continues throughout today's program. We'll hear about reaction in the Arab world and we'll also have a report from Eastern Libya.

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