Anti-Aircraft Fire Erupts Over Tripoli as More Nations Enforce No-Fly Zone
AP: A Danish F-16 fighter-bomber takes off from the NATO airbase in Sigonella, Italy, March 21, 2011-

Anti-aircraft fire has erupted over the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with at least one explosion shaking the city as more Western nations joined a coalition enforcing a U.N.-authorized no-fly zone over Libya.

The anti-aircraft fire and explosion were heard in Tripoli after nightfall Monday. Earlier, the head of the U.S. military's Africa command said coalition warplanes carried out more patrols in Libyan airspace during the day, with seven nations participating in the mission alongside the United States.

Speaking from his headquarters in Germany, General Carter Ham said the other nations include Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy and Spain. He said the focus of the mission, which began Saturday, has now shifted to extending the no-fly zone from eastern Libya to cover Tripoli in the west.

General Ham said U.S. and British forces also fired 12 Tomahawk missiles in the previous 24 hours at Libyan military targets, including command and control, missile and air defense sites. Both nations had fired more than 100 cruise missiles at Libyan military facilities on Saturday.

A U.S. military official also said a British air strike on the Tripoli compound of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi targeted his "military command ability" late Sunday. The strike heavily damaged a building inside the complex. There was no word on casualties.

General Ham said the goal of the air and missile strikes is to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by Mr. Gadhafi's forces, not to target the Libyan leader. The U.S. commander also said the coalition has no mandate to provide direct support to Libyan rebels who began an uprising last month aimed at ending Mr. Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

General Ham said the coalition has not engaged in any official communication with the rebels. But, he said coalition airstrikes on pro-Gadhafi fighters who advanced on the rebels' eastern stronghold of Benghazi had left the government troops "with little will or capacity to resume offensive operations."

British Prime Minister David Cameron told the nation's parliament Monday that the coalition has "neutralized" Libyan air defenses and made "good progress" in achieving its mission to protect civilians. He also said coalition operations had averted what he called "bloody massacre" of Benghazi residents by Gadhafi loyalists.

Libyan rebels tried to take advantage of the coalition assault by pushing to reclaim territory lost to the government during the past 10 days. After regrouping Monday, the rebels moved on the eastern town of Ajdabiya, attacking the positions of pro-Gadhafi forces. Western media reports say the rebels later pulled back.

But, opposition sources in the western city of Misrata said government troops surrounding the rebel enclave continue to harass it, allegedly using civilians as a shield against any attacks by coalition forces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington expects to turn control of the mission in Libya over to its coalition partners in the coming days.

by voa

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