Gadhafi’s Troops Retreat From Benghazi

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2011 — Forces loy­al to Moam­mar Gad­hafi are retreat­ing from the oppo­si­tion strong­hold of Beng­hazi fol­low­ing coali­tion attacks to pro­tect Libyan civil­ians over the week­end, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham said today.
Ham com­mands U.S. Africa Com­mand and leads the coali­tion designed to enforce U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973, which calls for the pro­tec­tion of Libyan civil­ians from Gadhafi’s forces and autho­rizes a no-fly zone over Libya.

The first days of Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn have been suc­cess­ful, Ham said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with Pen­ta­gon reporters from his head­quar­ters in Stuttgart, Ger­many.

“I assess that our actions to date are gen­er­al­ly achiev­ing the intend­ed objec­tives,” Ham said. “We have not observed Libyan mil­i­tary air­craft oper­at­ing since the begin­ning of coali­tion oper­a­tions.”

Coali­tion air attacks have suc­ceed­ed in stop­ping regime forces from advanc­ing on Beng­hazi, “and we are now see­ing regime forces mov­ing south­ward from Beng­hazi,” Ham said. “Through a vari­ety of reports, we know that regime ground forces that were in the vicin­i­ty of Beng­hazi now pos­sess lit­tle will or capa­bil­i­ty to resume offen­sive oper­a­tions,” he added.

Coali­tion forces launched 12 Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles at Libyan com­mand and con­trol nodes, a Scud mis­sile site and an air defense site. “Coali­tion forces from France, Spain, Italy and the Unit­ed King­dom flew mis­sions to sus­tain the no-fly zone over Beng­hazi to pro­tect civil­ians from attack by regime ground forces and the con­duct fur­ther recon­nais­sance,” the gen­er­al said.

Coali­tion ships con­tin­ue their mis­sion to enforce the U.N. ban on weapons ship­ments to Libya, and the coali­tion flotil­la off-shore was joined by the French air­craft car­ri­er Charles DeGaulle and the Ital­ian car­ri­er Garibal­di.

Air oper­a­tions are aimed at extend­ing the no-fly zone south­ward from Beng­hazi and then west­ward to Tripoli.

Mean­while, Ham said, he is prepar­ing the process to trans­fer com­mand of Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn to a coali­tion com­man­der.

“This is a very com­plex task under the best of con­di­tions,” he said. “My goal is to not cause dis­rup­tions to the on-going oper­a­tion while we effect the head­quar­ters tran­si­tion.” He said the tran­si­tion will not take long to accom­plish, but it must be done care­ful­ly. “It’s not so sim­ple as just hav­ing a hand­shake some­place and [say­ing], ‘OK, you’re now in charge,’ ” Ham said. “These are very com­plex, tech­ni­cal things that have to occur, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the man­age­ment and com­mand and con­trol of the air cam­paign,” he said.

The coali­tion needs to ensure that any change would not place air­crews at risk, the gen­er­al told reporters. “I do not see this being a pro­longed sit­u­a­tion,” he said, “but we need that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the head­quar­ters, and then we’ll begin that process and move on.”

Ham reit­er­at­ed that his mis­sion is to pro­tect civil­ians and to enforce a no-fly zone, con­ced­ing that this mil­i­tary mis­sion could mean Gad­hafi could remain as leader in Libya.

“It’s per­haps eas­i­er for me to address that than it is for oth­ers, because I have a very dis­crete mil­i­tary mis­sion,” he said. “I could see accom­plish­ing the mil­i­tary mis­sion [that] 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 is ide­al, but I could envi­sion that as a pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion, at least for the cur­rent mis­sion that I have.”

Ham said he has no mis­sion to go after Gad­hafi. “We are not seek­ing his where­abouts or any­thing like that,” he added. “We think we have been very effec­tive in degrad­ing his abil­i­ty to con­trol his regime forces. And we think we are see­ing that play out at var­i­ous parts of the coun­try.”

The no-fly zone is mak­ing progress, but coali­tion air­crews still con­front a dan­ger­ous envi­ron­ment. More than half of the mis­sions flown in the past 24 hours were by coali­tion nations oth­er than the Unit­ed States. Gad­hafi still has mobile sur­face-to-air mis­sile sys­tems with his deployed forces, and there are thou­sands of shoul­der-fired mis­siles and thou­sands of anti-air­craft artillery emplace­ments in Libya.

The gen­er­al stressed there will be no U.S. boots on the ground in Libya and that the coali­tion is not pro­vid­ing air sup­port to the oppo­si­tion.

“We do not pro­vide close-air sup­port for the oppo­si­tion forces. We pro­tect civil­ians,” he said. “Some with­in the oppo­si­tion may be civil­ians. And if they are attacked by regime forces, then we would be oblig­ed, if we pos­sess the capa­bil­i­ty, to try to pro­tect them from attack. But we have no mis­sion and no intent to pro­vide close-air sup­port to the oppo­si­tion.”

No Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers are work­ing with oppo­si­tion groups to sup­ply infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence to air­crews, the gen­er­al said.

“No one who is a part of this coali­tion is on the ground,” Ham said. “I don’t know how to be more clear than that: No mil­i­tary boots on the ground.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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