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Libya’s Gadhafi Vows to Fight On; U.S. Jet Crashes, but Crew Survives

March 22, 2011 at 5:47 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight on today, as U.S. and British submarines fired another 20 cruise missiles at targets in Libya. The Libyan leader appeared in public for the first time since the coalition attacks began on Saturday.

Earlier, tanks and troops loyal to Gadhafi blasted the town of Zintan near the Tunisian border and the city of Misrata east of Tripoli.

The U.S. task force commander, Adm. Samuel Locklear, said the coalition was considering all options on how to respond.

We have a series of reports from Independent Television News, beginning with John Ray in Tripoli.

JOHN RAY: Coalition airstrikes are hitting home and, on the evidence shown to us by the Libyans themselves, destroying targets with precision.

The twisted and charred metal is what remains after six Tomahawk cruise missiles smashed into a naval base, punching deep into concrete, leaving gaping craters. And long after last night’s attack, fires still burn, and the ruins smolder.

These are the remains of a multi-barrel rocket launcher. And although the Libyan authorities have talked repeatedly about civilian casualties, this was a purely military target, hit, it appears, with pinpoint accuracy.

And some of the weaponry on display looks as old as the regime itself. And the Libyans insist this was merely a training facility.

MAN: Believe me, here, no anti-rocket, no anti-missile, no anti-bomb, just workshop here.

JOHN RAY: Three nights of bombing appear only to have inflamed the passions of Gadhafi’s well-drilled followers. But look across Green Square, and they barely fill a tiny corner. And even in the heart of the capital, among the fervor and the fear, we found one man brave enough to voice dissent.

You seem very scared.

MAN: Yes, I am.

JOHN RAY: As we speak, his hands shake. But he wants to tell us the demonstrations we have been brought to witness are a sham.

Tell me what the real Tripoli is.

MAN: The real Tripoli is against the regime.

JOHN RAY: This is Misrata, the last city in the west in rebel hands, scene now of a bloody last stand. The hospitals are full. The city is being shelled, its citizens picked off by snipers. And these are the bodies of four children from the same family.

It’s impossible to verify any of the horrors taking place here, but this is what one local doctor told us.

MAN: And they shoot their car. The four children, two kids, two boys and two girls, are shattered, unfortunately. You know, some — you know, some things, you couldn’t see, you couldn’t look, you couldn’t — you couldn’t see, you know? I couldn’t even look to them.

JOHN RAY: Gadhafi’s defenses are proving no match for Western military power, but his regime still stands, and it is still lethal.

GWEN IFILL: The day also brought the first loss by U.S. forces since the Libya campaign began Saturday. A U.S. attack plane went down last night outside Benghazi. The U.S. military blamed mechanical failure, not hostile fire. Both crewmen were picked up safe and sound, but in the process, their rescuers mistakenly attacked friendly civilians.

Martin Geissler reports on that incident and — and the day’s other developments in Eastern Libya.

MARTIN GEISSLER: In a field outside Benghazi, a crowd gathers on the wreckage of an American F-15 fighter that crashed early this morning. The pilots ejected unharmed, but the operation to collect them from inside friendly territory seems to have gone badly wrong.

Eyewitnesses here say a rescue helicopter came to pick up the pilots, but when its crew saw the crowd around the plane, they fired on them. Five people were injured. They’re being treated in hospital in Benghazi, but remarkably, they say they bear no grudges.

“If they had just stopped shooting, we would have escorted the pilot to safety,” this man said. “We were just trying to have a celebration for him.”

That kind of spirit and bravery runs right through the rebel ranks. These pictures show a government tank rolling into Benghazi on Saturday. A handful of men on foot took it on and won. It fired on them, but they stood their ground. And when they fired back with a rocket-propelled grenade, the tank’s crew surrendered.

But the rebels can’t win this conflict with bravery alone. Even after the allied airstrikes, this largely amateur army is outgunned by the government forces. The rebel advance has halted outside Ajdabiya, where Gadhafi’s troops have regrouped.

This ex-air force colonel is trying to coordinate the rebels’ front line from the cab of his pickup truck. He told me he’s been living here for four days.

You say you fight with your heart. But do you also need international help?

MAN: Yes, international help.

MARTIN GEISSLER: International help would make a massive difference, he said.

And as the fighting continues, so too the stream of casualties. This man was called to the mortuary to identify his brother, who was caught in the gunfire — aren’t the only victims of this war.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Libyan government insisted again today that large numbers of civilians are being killed in the coalition strikes.

And in Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he’s concerned about indiscriminate use of force. But after meeting with Medvedev, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates rejected the criticism.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: The vast majority, if not nearly all, civilian casualties have been inflicted by Gadhafi. Most of our targets, virtually all of our targets are isolated, nonpopulated areas. It’s almost as though some people here are taking at face value Gadhafi’s claims about the number of civilian casualties, which as far as I’m concerned are just outright lies.

GWEN IFILL: Both Russia and China called today for a cease-fire in Libya.

Meanwhile, Spain and the Arab state of Qatar joined the coalition. And France called for a new steering committee working outside NATO to oversee the military operation. That would get around the divisions that have opened up within the alliance.