WASHINGTON - (AP) - The U.S. on Sunday claimed initial success twodays into an assault on Libya that included some of the heaviestfirepower in the American arsenal - long-range bombers designed forthe Cold War - but American officials said Sunday it was too earlyto define the international military campaign's endgame.
The top U.S. military officer suggested that Libyan strongmanMoammar Gadhafi might stay in power in spite of the militaryassault aimed at protecting civilians, calling into question thelarger objective of an end to Gadhafi's erratic 42-year rule. Othertop U.S. officials have suggested that a weakened and isolatedGadhafi could be ripe for a coup.
A second wave of attacks, mainly from American fighters andbombers, targeted Libyan ground forces and air defenses, followingan opening barrage Saturday of sea-launched Tomahawk cruisemissiles.
At the Pentagon, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, staffdirector for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference thatthe back-to-back assaults Saturday and Sunday had inflicted heavydamage. They largely silenced Gadhafi's air defenses, blunted hisarmy's drive on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and confused hisforces.
"We judge these strikes to have been very effective insignificantly degrading the regime's air defense capability,"Gortney said. "We believe his forces are under significant stressand suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion."
Gortney's assessment suggested that further strikes on the scaleof Saturday's heavy assault with sea-launched Tomahawk cruisemissiles may not be needed, although he did not rule out furtherattacks.
Gortney said Gadhafi himself is not a target, but he could notguarantee the strongman's safety.
The systems targeted most closely were Libya's SA-5surface-to-air missiles, Russian-made weaponry that could pose athreat to allied aircraft many miles off the Libyan coastline.Libya has a range of other air defense weaponry, including portablesurface-to-air missiles that are more difficult to eliminate bybombing.
Sunday's attacks, carried out by a range of U.S. aircraft -including Air Force B-2 stealth bombers as well as Marine Harrierjets flying from an amphibious assault ship in the Mediterranean -demonstrated the predominance of U.S. firepower in theinternational coalition. By striking Libyan ground forces,coalition forces also showed that they are going beyond the mostfrequently discussed goal of establishing a no-fly zone over thecountry.
U.S. missiles and warplanes were clearly in the lead Saturdayand Sunday, but U.S. officials say the plan remains for the U.S. tostep back once the threat from the Libyan military is reduced.