U.S. Jet Crashes in Libya, Pace of Strikes to SlowMARCH 22, 2011
The pace of U.S. and allied airstrikes in Libya should slow in the next few days, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday, as the coalition experienced its first setback after a U.S. jet crashed in northeast Libya and two pilots safely ejected.
Mr. Gates comments in Moscow came as fighting on the ground continued in Libya and coalition members seek clarity on who will be in control of the next phase of military operations.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Tuesday it had agreed to launch an operation to enforce an arms embargo against Libya and that it had finalized plans to help enforce the no-fly zone, but there were no signs of an agreement of the plans being put into operation.
U.S. and allied air patrols continue to expand the protective no-fly zone over the country Tuesday, as they enforce last week's United Nations resolution authorizing military action to stop Col. Gadhafi from attacking civilian opponents.
"As we are successful in suppressing the air defenses, the level of kinetic activity should decline…I assume in the next few days," Mr. Gates told reporters Tuesday after meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow.
There have been no reports of new strikes Tuesday, and in some cases the pace of attack has already dropped off. Britain's Major General John Lorimer said that U.K. forces haven't fired a shot in over 24 hours and its planes have instead been conducting reconaissance missions. Gen. Lorimer said this was for a "variety of reasons" but declined to name them.
U.S. military officials said that the U.S. F-15 Eagle that crashed was based out of Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the U.K., and was operating out of Aviano Air Base in Italy. U.S. military officials said they didn't think the crash was caused by enemy fire. Britain's Ministry of Defence said it scrambled Sentinel and E3-D reconnaissance planes to help in the search for the pilots.
"Both crew members ejected with minor injuries and are safe," said Vince Crawley, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, which oversees the military campaign in Libya. "It is our understanding that the aircraft experienced equipment malfunction," he said.
The aim of the allied air patrols is to expand the no-fly zone from Benghazi, the eastern city that is the de facto capital of the beleaguered rebels, to the coastal oil-refinery city of Brega, to Misrata east of Tripoli, and eventually to Tripoli, U.S. Gen. Carter Ham, current commander of the military campaign, said Monday.
There is evidence in Tripoli that the allied bombing has been effective against targets considered key to Col. Gadhafi's military superiority.
Behind the walled compound at a naval yard located in the central district called Souq al-Jouma'a, hanger facilities were smoldering and white smoke was rising above what looked to be a working plant. Armed militia members loyal to Col. Gadhafi shooed cars filled with residents who stopped around midday Tuesday to gape at the destruction caused by the bombs.
Later in the afternoon, the Libyan government took journalists to view the wreckage caused when six Tomahawk missiles launched from the sea pounded the site. The 9 a.m. attack incinerated most of the infrastructure at the yard, according to Libyan Col. Fathi al-Rabiti.
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