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Ground Battles Continue Amid Air Barrage, U.S. Warplane Crashes

6 p.m. ET | In brief televised remarks, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi remained defiant in the face of coalition airstrikes and the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone. “We will be victorious in the end,” he said, saying his troops will keep fighting opposition forces.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement that he and President Obama “agreed on the modalities of using the structures of the NATO command to support the coalition.” British Prime Minister David Cameron has echoed his support for a significant NATO role in the military operation in Libya. Leadership within the coalition over enforcing an on-going no-fly zone is yet to be determined.

Sarkozy had expressed concern of NATO having full operational control, instead preferring involvement from Arab nations.

Libyans gather around the wreckage of a US F-15 fighter jet inear Benghazi on March 22, 2011. (Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

3:30 p.m. ET | Explosions and fire could be heard in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, Tuesday night as intense battles continued in the cities of Misrata or Ajdabiya between Gadhafi’s forces and rebels. Medical officials in Misrata reported heavy casualties as government forces continued their week-long siege on the city. Though the international efforts have crippled Gadhafi’s air forces, the air strikes have not halted the ground fighting in closely contested areas.

2 p.m. ET | The downed U.S. plane, an Air Force F-15, landed in a field some 24 miles from Benghazi, according to an Associated Press report. One of the pilots ejected and hid in a sheep pen before being identified as an American and assisted by members of Benghazi’s opposition council. A second plane fired on the field, and the owner of the farm was reportedly injured.

China and Russia said Thursday there should be a cease-fire following air strikes on Tripoli, the country’s capital. Neither country voted for the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the no-fly zone.

1 p.m. ET | In a briefing with members of the press, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, who is overseeing U.S. military strikes from the USS Mt. Whitney in the Mediterranean, said Tuesday that “despite our successes to date, Gadhafi and his forces are not yet in compliance” with the U.N. Security Council’s resolution, and that they are continuing to carry out attacks against civilians in parts of the country.

He said there are currently no plans to expand military operations beyond the enforcement of the no-fly zone. “At this point in time the security council resolution has given us a mission to complete our mission using the no-fly zone, using those powers that are specified in resolution,” he said.

Adm. Locklear said the strikes had diminished Gadhafi’s air capability, but that Gadhafi still has a “fairly significant land force” spread around the country.

Regarding the Air Force jet that crashed in eastern Libya, he said both crew members had safely ehected and that one was initially rescued by Libyans. That crew member was “treated with dignity and respect and now in the care of the United States.”

He also emphasized the involvement of French and British military assets, both by air and in the Mediterranean Sea. The timeline for shifting responsibilities from the U.S. to European allies has not yet been determined.

9 a.m. ET | Heavy ground fighting was seen Tuesday along the northern part of Libya as air strikes continued to pound forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi. Outside Ajdabiya, government forces shelled rebel troops, with tanks rolling into the opposition-held city. Witnesses also reported fighting in the western city of Misrata. Residents have joined the rebels, who have fought for weeks but faced superior weapon power from Gadhafi’s troops and have lost many of their initial gains, creating a city-by-city showdown and complicating the international air campaign.

Despite early strikes, the United States has signaled that it will limit its role to protecting civilians and hand more responsibility to its allies. France and Britain were early leaders of the effort to implement a no-fly zone, but France has expressed fears that a NATO-centric presence could detract from the backing of Arab nations. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States would not participate directly in unseating Gadhafi. “That is a matter for the Libyans themselves to decide,” he said. “And I think given the opportunity and the absence of repression, they may well do that.”

Meantime, a U.S. Air Force F-15 crashed over Libya, but both of its crew members ejected and were said to be safe. Though few details are available, the cause of the crash has been attributed to mechanical causes, not enemy fire. Officials declined to specify the location of the crash.

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