Fighter pilots from the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar have become the first from an Arab country to fly combat missions over Libya, as coalition warplanes and missiles continue to pound government forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi.
In the past 24-hours U.S. defense officials say allied warplanes have flown more than 153 missions and launched 16 additional Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan forces and military equipment.
Command and control targets around Tripoli were stuck and tanks outside the strategic city of Ajdabiyah were attacked.
U.S. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon pilots from Qatar represent the first Arab country to fly combat missions over Libya. "Indeed Qatari fighter pilots already flew their first mission this morning, accompanying French aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone and we look forward to having pilots from the United Arab Emirates on the flight schedule in the coming days," he said.
Admiral Gortney says Mr. Gadhafi’s air force cannot fly, his warships are staying in port, his ammunitions stores are being destroyed and his communications towers are being toppled.
Gortney says the Pentagon has received reports that Mr. Gadhafi is now arming civilians. "I am not sure whether they truly are volunteers or not, and I don’t know how many of these recruits he is going to get, but I find it interesting that he may now feel it necessary to seek civilian reinforcements," he said.
Admiral Gortney says Mr. Gadhafi’s forces continue to operate in a number of Libyan cities, but coalition fighter pilots have been ordered not to attack targets in urban areas. "What we do not want to do is create civilian casualties. The last thing we want to do is put the Libyan people at greater risk by our actions than they are already by actions taken by Gadhafi’s regime," he said.
Admiral Gortney says while the abilities of Libyan armed forces have been degraded, the threat to civilians on the ground remains serious.