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Updated: March 24, 2011 18:30 IST

Allies target Libyan ground forces after decimating air force

PTI
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Picketers protest the American involvement in Libya in San Francisco. Photo: AP
Picketers protest the American involvement in Libya in San Francisco. Photo: AP

The massive strikes on Col. Qaddafi’s ground forces, including his big Armada of tanks, mobile rocket launchers, heavy guns and short range battle missiles, mark the second phase of operation ‘Odyssey Dawn’, British Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell said.

U.S. and allied forces today shifted focus on hitting Libyan ground forces, targeting tanks and artillery to obliterate Muammar Qaddafi’s war waging machine, as French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned that the campaign may go on for weeks.

The shift to attack the ground forces came after coalition commanders claimed that Libyan air force had been completely destroyed and that the U.S. and NATO warplanes had total sway of the Libyan sky.

The massive strikes on Col. Qaddafi’s ground forces, including his big Armada of tanks, mobile rocket launchers, heavy guns and short range battle missiles, mark the second phase of operation ‘Odyssey Dawn’, British Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell said.

Col. Qaddafi’s air force “no longer exists a fighting force,” Air Vice Marshal Bagwell said as a flotilla of NATO warships patrolled Libya’s coast to enforce an arms embargo against Qaddafi.

As the allied operation entered the sixth day, French Foreign Minister Juppe said the campaign would continue.

“It will last for days and weeks. But, not months,” he said, spelling out for the first time the expected duration of the military campaign.

The French Minister was speaking to reporters in Brussels ahead of a crucial EU—NATO meeting to discuss how to coordinate airstrikes on Libya.

The coalition warplanes pounded the rebel—held city of Misruta, forcing Col. Qaddafi’s forces to pull back from the outskirts of the city, but residents said by nightfall the tanks and artillery had renewed their the shelling on the city which is virtually under siege.

Similar strikes were aimed at Col. Qaddafi’s forces stalking the towns of Adjabiyah and Zintan. “We are interdicting and putting pressure on Qaddafi’s forces that are attacking population centres,” said Rear Admiral Gerard P. Hueber, the Chief of Staffs for the American—led operational command.

“The air attacks continued day and night yesterday and resumed this morning on Qaddafi’s ground forces in both Misurata in the west and Adjabiyah in the east,” the Admiral said as NATO’s top military commander U.S. Admiral James Stavridis flew into Turkey to hold talks with Turkish military leaders who are holding up an agreement for NATO to take over command of Operation Odyssey.

The allied forces also continued Tomahawk missile strikes and air bombing of the Libyan capital Tripoli.

A BBC correspondent said the city was rocked by seven explosions and witnesses said a military base at Tajura, 32 km. east of the capital was hit.

Al Jazeera said eight explosions were also heard in the east of the capital last night.

The official JANA news agency said coalition raids on Tajura had killed a large number of civilians. Tajura, which houses a massive military complex, including a missile base, has been hit thrice.

JANA said the latest raid had targeted rescue workers who were trying to remove the dead and wounded from the rubble left by the first two raids.

Although the endgame in Libya remains unclear, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, now on a farewell visit to Egypt, said that mounting pressure on Col. Qaddafi could encourage his inner circle and even members of his family to turn on him.

“I think there are any number of possible outcomes here, and no one is in a position to predict them,” Mr. Gates said.

A U.S. commander said the allies flew 175 sorties in 24 hours, and the U.S. flew 113 of those. French defence minister Gerard Longuet, meanwhile, said France had destroyed about 10 Libyan armoured vehicles over three days.

However, there was no let up in Col. Qaddafi's forces’ shelling of the rebel—held cities.

In the coastal city of Misurata, around 200km east of Tripoli, government snipers fired indiscriminately, killing 16 people, Al Jazeera reported.

It quoted a rebel spokesman as saying that four children were killed in the city on Tuesday as regime forces pressed their siege.

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