NATO to Control No-Fly Zone, Explosions Near Tripoli

BY News Desk  March 25, 2011 at 8:49 AM EDT

2:30 p.m. ET | In a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the military’s Joint Staff, said there was “not much of a change from yesterday” where contested cities, including Ajdabiya, were concerned. “The coalition is working very hard to make it very hard for Col. Gadhafi and his troops” to harm civilians. He said sustained attacks were chipping away at Gadhafi’s command structure and logistical abilities and that the airstrikes were designed not to put civilians in additional danger.

Gortney said the U.S. mission would shift to be more focused on civilian protection as NATO assumed control of the no-fly zone in coming days. “Job one is to protect the Libyan people,” he said.

A French military official said the military campaign could last for weeks. “I doubt it will be days. I think it will be weeks. I hope it will not be months,” Adm. Edouard Guillaud said. One week into the allied air strikes, ground fighting between Gadhafi’s forces and rebel groups remains intense.

Aid agencies said that civilians are trapped in a growing humanitarian crisis, lacking food and surrounded by shelling and violence.

Libyan rebels run to cover as a tank shell of government forces explodes nearby on March 24, 2011, as they try to retake the strategic eastern oil town of Ajdabiya from troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan rebels run to cover as a tank shell of government forces explodes nearby on March 24, 2011, as they try to retake the strategic eastern oil town of Ajdabiya from troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

1 p.m. ET | Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, a Canadian general based in Italy with the Allied Joint Force Command, will be tasked with leading NATO’s Libya mission, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said Friday.

9 a.m. ET | After days of negotiations, NATO agreed to assume enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya Thursday, a step the United States had sought in an effort to pass on leadership of the military operation.

Turkey had been hesitant to back military action against leader Moammar Gadhafi’s ground forces, but backed implementation of the no-fly zone and arms embargo after last week’s U.N. Security Council resolution passed.

The United Arab Emirates will send additional jet fighters to support the effort, joining Qatar as the second Arab nation to support the operation. Coalition nations have sought support from the Arab League, which backed the initial no-fly zone, in an attempt to shift away from a NATO-dominated air campaign. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the U.A.E.’s decision to send 12 of its planes to join NATO forces.

Strikes hit the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, targeting military bases outside the city. In Ajdabiya, government tanks continued to press in on the city. Misrata has sustained continuous shelling by Gadhafi’s forces for a week, as residents struggle without adequate water or supplies.

France said that the airspace over Libya was effectively “under control,”one day after a government plane was destroyed by French forces. Despite a sustained air campaign, allied nations have shied away from the use of ground troops to push Gadhafi’s forces away from civilian populations.

In recent days, Libyan state television has shown charred bodies it claims are those of victims of the coalition strikes. U.S. officials have said the scenes were staged, and rebels have claimed that the bodies were removed from morgues.

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