JIM LEHRER: A coalition led by the U.S. military hit Libya today with a dozen more cruise missiles. It was the latest wave of attacks that began Saturday night. The goal was to impose a no-fly zone and stop Moammar Gadhafi’s forces from attacking civilians.
In Chile, President Obama said the coalition acted to uphold a core principle.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When the entire international community almost unanimously says that there is a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people, that we can’t simply stand by with empty words.
GWEN IFILL: The president said the U.S. would turn over leadership of the operation to allied nations within days. The U.S. military also said Gadhafi’s ability to control his forces has already been sharply reduced.
We have the first of two reports on the situation inside Libya from Independent Television News, beginning with Jonathan Miller in Tripoli.
JONATHAN MILLER: Twenty-one-hundred hours last night, more than 10 British warplanes prepare for another bombing run to Tripoli. We know now their mission was aborted. Their payload of Storm Shadow missiles returned from Libya intact. The reason? Intelligence that there were civilians in the target area.
Well, it’s probable that these are the civilians they’re referring to, the human shields prepared to die, they say, to protect Moammar Gadhafi, their carnival of defiance inside the leader’s compound bombed by the Americans in 1986. Last night, Gadhafi’s Bab Al Aziziya compound was blitzed again, this time by the Brits.
Very late last night, the Libyan government brought journalists to inspect the damage. It was an administrative building, we were told. Thanks be to God, they said, no one dead or injured.
They brought us here to show — to show us the damage. We’re in the inner sanctum of the leader’s compound. They say this is all the evidence they need to show that the coalition is trying to kill Gadhafi.
Britain’s ministry of defense told Channel 4 News that today what hit this building was a Tomahawk cruise missile fired from a British submarine, HMS Triumph. The building was believed to have contained military communications equipment, making it, the MOD says, a legitimate target.
Moammar Gadhafi’s famous bedouin tent where he works and entertains his visitors was just over 100 meters from the blast site. The leader’s whereabouts are presently unknown.
Just over 100 miles from Tripoli, Gadhafi’s forces are still reported to be besieging the contested city of Misrata. No fresh footage has emerged from there today, but residents claim his troops are using civilians as human shields and firing on unarmed civilians, too, and this despite government affirmations that it’s sticking to the cease-fire.
Coalition warplanes will right now be readying for their third night of raids on Libya. The leader himself has not been seen or heard from since just before those strikes began.
JIM LEHRER: And Gadhafi’s future remained an open question.
President Obama said again today, it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi has to go. But the head of the U.S. Africa Command, Army Gen. Carter Ham, left the door open.
GEN. CARTER HAM, U.S. Africa Command: I could see accomplishing the military mission which has been — which has been assigned to me, and the current leader would remain the current leader. Is that ideal? I don’t think anyone would say that that is ideal.
I would reiterate, though, that I have no mission to attack that person, and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that.
GWEN IFILL: The Libyan rebels insisted today they would never negotiate with Gadhafi. Instead, they scrambled to try to retake lost ground. Gadhafi’s forces pulled back from Benghazi after being blasted by coalition airstrikes. The rebels pushed forward, but the fighting was fierce.
Martin Geissler filed this report from eastern Libya.
MARTIN GEISSLER: East Libya’s celebrations have been short-lived. Try telling this man the war is over. Utterly distraught, he drove his comrade from the battlefield in Ajdabiya. On the road out of Benghazi, Gadhafi’s tanks are still burning, but the airstrike here didn’t kill his fight completely.
As we stopped at a checkpoint, rebels brought more wounded from the front and a call for support. This man told me his convoy had been hit by artillery; his three brothers and a cousin had been killed. But as the wounded come back, there is no shortage of volunteers to replace them.
This is where the road to Ajdabiya stops. We have been told that Gadhafi’s troops have a tank on the gates of the town about 10 kilometers from here, and it’s firing on anything coming towards it. It’s a sharp reminder to these rebels, if one were needed, that their fight is far from won.
Heading back to Benghazi, we passed what has become a macabre tourist attraction. Hundreds have flocked from the city to see what remains of one government artillery division. Celebratory gunfire rattled all around, but there was anger, too. These tanks were sent to destroy them and their city. The airstrike came in the nick of time.
MAN: They things, OK, attacked Benghazi people. They destroy completely.
MAN: We would like to say thanks for the United Nations and for all of these people, because if it’s going to be like face-to-face with this, it will be carnage.
MARTIN GEISSLER: Back inside Benghazi, we stopped at a hospital. The chaos continued as casualties from the front kept coming. This man answered the call for volunteers this morning. An hour later, caught in a shelling, he lost both his arms.
And just a few feet away, another awful story: 5-year-old Mohammed Ahmed writhing in pain. His family’s car came under shell fire on Saturday. His father and brother were killed. His mother lies critically ill beside him.
Even if Libya does win its freedom, they will have paid an awful price.
JIM LEHRER: In one other development today, four New York Times journalists were released by Libyan authorities after being detained last week.