In Libya, Air Strikes Continue

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Air strikes continued against installations and forces of the Libyan government. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Monday that the U.S. will turn over "primary responsibility" for the operations to allies in a matter of days. NPR's David Greene talks to Melissa Block with the latest.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Tripoli tonight, once again, anti-aircraft fire.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

SIEGEL: Tracers lit up the night sky. This on a day when air strikes continued against instillations and forces of the Libyan government. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said today that the U.S. will turn over primary responsibility for the operations to allies in a matter of days.

BLOCK: In a few minutes, we'll explore what the end game might be for this allied operation. First to Tripoli, where NPR's David Greene told us what he's been seeing and hearing.

DAVID GREENE: For a third night in a row we're seeing just a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. It's been going for maybe 10, 15 minutes or so. You know, it's those tracers that look like fireworks, just these lines of red lights shooting up into the sky. And it's always coming from - towards the sprawling military compound that's about a kilometer from our hotel here, which is where Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has a home.

So we heard from British and American officials today that we were starting to get towards a second phase, where some of the air attacks on Gadhafi's air defenses might be beginning to wrap up. But certainly we're - we at least are seeing action from the Libyan side firing these anti-aircraft shells tonight.

BLOCK: Action from the Libyan side, David, does it seem to be in response to actual air strikes from the West on that compound that you're describing?

GREENE: It's really hard to tell, Melissa. I mean, this very well, at least some of the time could be just the Gadhafi military, you know, putting up a display of force. I mean, they haven't had much success using this antiquated anti-aircraft fire that they have. They might just be firing it, sending a message, you know, don't come near the compound. Don't come near Tripoli. We're just not sure.

We do know that last night when we were hearing this anti-aircraft fire, we caught the sound of what seemed to be one loud explosion, and then we confirmed later when foreign journalists were brought on to the Gadhafi compound that indeed there was a missile strike on an administrative building on the compound.

BLOCK: And, David, you've been describing in your reporting that Gadhafi has surrounded himself with civilians. Are these essentially human shields that he's using to protect himself?

GREENE: The government makes no bones about it. They say these people are human shields. They say that they're willing human shields. And when we were at the compound last night and over the course of the last couple days, people said they are there willing to die with Gadhafi if he were targeted at some point. The rebels have suggested that people have been forced into those positions. We don't have any way to confirm that.

We do know that the British military held back on a planned strike on one target because they picked up that there were civilians there. So at least in one place it sounds like the human shield strategy might have worked.

BLOCK: And do we know where Colonel Gadhafi is?

GREENE: We don't. But the last time I can confirm his being in Tripoli was, I spoke to a Portuguese newspaper reporter who did an interview with Gadhafi. And that was a day or two before the first round of military strikes. Since then, we've heard his voice on state television in a rant about how this was going to be a long war against the West.

But we haven't seen him. I asked a government spokesman today, you know, was Colonel Gadhafi at the compound last night when it was hit? Where is he right now? And he sort of smirked at me and pointed to his heart and said, he's in my heart and then he walked away. So we're not sure at this point.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's David Greene reporting from Tripoli, Libya. David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Melissa.

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