U.S. and European forces continued their air strikes against Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi loyalists for the third straight night Monday, helping rebels regain control of Zuwaytinah, an oil terminal that had been captured by Gadhafi forces last week.
The Washington Post reported that explosions
and plumes of smoke marked the scene of the strikes against Gadhafi's forces in Ajdabiya, about 100 miles south of the rebels' capital of Benghazi, and that advancing rebels cheered when Western warplanes flew overhead.
Monday night, Libyan state TV said a new round of strikes had begun in the capital, Tripoli.
But while the air strikes can stop Gadhafi's troops from attacking rebel cities -- in line with the U.N. mandate to protect civilians -- the United States appeared deeply reluctant to go beyond that toward actively helping the rebel cause to oust the Libyan leader, the Associated Press reported.
President Barack Obama said Monday that "it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi has to go." But, he said, the international air campaign has a more limited goal, to protect civilians.
"Our military action is in support of an international mandate from the Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Col. Gadhafi to his people. Not only was he carrying out murders of civilians, but he threatened more," the president said on a visit to Chile.
In Washington, the American general running the assault said there is no attempt to provide air cover for rebel operations. Gen. Carter Ham said Gadhafi might cling to power once the bombardment finishes, setting up a stalemate between his side and the rebels, with allied nations enforcing a no-fly zone to ensure he cannot attack civilians.
Among the rebels, as well, there was a realization that fighting could be drawn out. Mohammed Abdul-Mullah, a 38-year-old civil engineer from Benghazi who was fighting with the rebel force, told AP that government troops stopped all resistance after the international campaign began.
"The balance has changed a lot," he said. "But pro-Gadhafi forces are still strong. They are a professional military and they have good equipment. Ninety percent of us rebels are civilians, while Gadhafi's people are professional fighters."
Disorganization among the rebels could also hamper their attempts to exploit the turn of events. Since the uprising began, the opposition has been made up of disparate groups even as it took control of the entire east of the country.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the New York Times reported
that as NATO members met to talk about details of participating in the no-fly zone, there seemed to be confusion about who exactly would carry the operation forward. NATO approved on Sunday plans to help enforce a U.N. arms embargo against Libya, but so far it has not been able to agree on how to proceed on either that or the no-fly zone.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said that responsibility for the no-fly zone would be transferred to NATO, the Times reported. But France raised objections, saying the Arab League doesn't want NATO calling all the shots.
Turkey, a NATO member that has opposed the use of force in Libya, refused on Sunday to back a NATO military plan for the no-fly zone. But its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, denied that his country was against NATO participation in the operation, saying only that he wanted assurances that it would be brief and not end in an occupation.