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Coalition Forces Urge Gadhafi Military to Cease-fire

US Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney (file photo)

A top Pentagon official says the coalition enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya is urging forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi to cease-fire or risk continuing attacks from allied war planes. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney says the U.S. may handover command of the operation within the next several days.

Admiral Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon the coalition is using every tool available to communicate with Libyan military forces to urge them to stop killing civilians. "Our message to the regime troops is simple. Stop fighting, stop killing your own people, stop obeying the orders of Colonel Gadhafi. To the degree that you defy these demands we will continue to hit you and make it more difficult for you to keep going."

Asked if forces loyal to Mr. Gadhafi have heeded the coalition’s demands, Admiral Gortney says he is not aware of any so far.

Gortney says there are now 350 aircraft involved in a variety of operations, including enforcing the no-fly zone and attacking targets on the ground.

The admiral says warplanes are hitting targets around, but not inside, urban areas where there is still fighting between loyalist and rebel forces.

He says the transfer of U.S. control of the military mission will happen soon. "We are working very hard on the military side to be ready to handover the lead of this operation to a coalition command structure as early as this weekend," he said.

Army General Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. military operations in Libya, says allied forces are doing everything they can to avoid civilian casualties.

Ham spoke to reporters at an airbase in Sicily. "I am sorry if I am a little emotional about this. The people who are killing civilians are the regime of this current government leader in Libya. The people who are protecting the civilians are the forces of the United Nations, which are conducting these operations," he said.

Some military analysts like Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations say the only way for the crisis in Libya to conclude is to remove Mr. Gadhafi from power.

Boot says allied countries need to begin planning for the future. "We need to think about what happens in Libya after Gadhafi because I do think there is a real danger of chaos. There is a real danger of a protracted war between the tribes with al-Qaida and other extremist groups getting into the middle of it. I think there are grave dangers there," Boot said.

Boot says plans should be underway to send an international peacekeeping force to Libya.

He points out the no-fly zone in Iraq lasted for 12 years and Boot says that timeframe is the last thing the allies want in Libya.