WASHINGTON – The Pentagon revealed for the first time Wednesday that U.S. fighter jets have continued to strike Libyan air defenses after turning the mission over to NATO.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the jets were assigned to NATO and are operating under NATO command. They can be used when needed to take out enemy defenses as part of the enforcement of the no-fly zone.
CBS News National Security correspondent David Martin reported the missions, announced in an oh-by-the-way fashion by the Pentagon, have involved a handful of F-16s that have dropped a half-dozen bombs.
Separately, the U.S. has said that since the Libyan mission was turned over to NATO last week, special requests must be made for American fighters to conduct airstrikes to protect civilians. Lapan said there have been no requests for that kind of help.
Also Wednesday, two strong explosions struck the outskirts of Libya’s capital as the rebel movement urged a stronger NATO-led air campaign on targets held by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, a witness said.
The witness, a resident of the capital, Tripoli, said the blasts apparently struck near the airport, where Qaddafi has military camps and forces encircling the capital.
“Over the past days, we didn’t hear any explosions except for planes flying in the sky, but no raids,” said the resident, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals by the government.
The explosions could be NATO airstrikes on targets held by Qaddafi.
Libyan rebels have been pleading for more NATO airstrikes as top Western and Arab envoys gather in Qatar’s capital to discuss ways to end the Libyan crisis.
Mohamed Ismail Tajouri, a 54-year-old businessman who joined the rebels in their stronghold of Benghazi, said having a rebel delegation attend the Qatar meeting amounts to key international recognition.
“We are proud of this,” he told The Associated Press. “This political development is really good for the rebels but the Qaddafi regime is not normal. He is a bloody creature, he won’t leave until he spills some blood.”
The meeting comes as fighting on the eastern side of the country has been restricted to the occasional barrage of rockets, in contrast to the rapid advances and retreats that characterized much of the fighting there in past weeks.
Qaddafi’s forces, however, continued to shell the besieged city of Misrata in recent days. International groups are warning of a dire humanitarian crisis in Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city and the only city in western Libya that is still partially in the hands of rebels.
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