WASHINGTON (AP) — Battered by a week of air strikes, forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi still remain a potent threat to civilians, according to Pentagon officials, who are considering more firepower and airborne surveillance systems to find and attack the enemy troops.
As the military eyes other tools in its arsenal, the White House announced late Friday that President Barack Obama will give a speech to the nation Monday evening explaining his decision-making on Libya to a public weary of a decade of war.
The timing comes as Republicans and Democrats have complained that the president has not sought their input about the U.S. role in the war or explained with enough clarity about the U.S. goals and exit strategy.
Obama said Saturday that the international military campaign is succeeding. Libya's air defenses have been "taken out" and forces loyal to Gadhafi have been pushed back from cities where the people have risen up against him, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. A humanitarian catastrophe has also been avoided, he added.
"We're succeeding in our mission," Obama said in his weekly radio and online address.
Among the weapons being eyed for use in Libya is the Air Force's AC-130 gunship, an imposing aircraft armed with cannons that shoot from the side doors with precision. Other possibilities are helicopters and drones that fly lower and slower and can spot more than fast-moving jet fighters.
With the U.S. pressing to shift full command of the Libya air campaign to the NATO alliance, the discussion of adding weapons to step up the assault on Gadhafi's ground troops reflects the challenges in hitting the right targets.
U.S.-led forces began launching missile strikes last Saturday against the defenses of embattled Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to establish a no-fly zone and prevent him from attacking his own people.
American officials have said they won't drop bombs in cities to avoid killing or wounding civilians — a central pillar of the operation. Yet they want to hit the enemy in contested urban areas such as Misrata, Ajdabiya and Zintan.
"The difficulty in identifying friend from foe anywhere is always a difficult challenge," Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday at the Pentagon. The difficulty in distinguishing "friend from foe inside an urban environment is magnified significantly."
Army Gen. Carter Ham, the U.S. officer in charge of the overall international mission, told The Associated Press, the focus is on disrupting the communications and supply lines that allow Gadhafi's forces to keep fighting in the contested cities.
"We could easily destroy all the regime forces that are in Ajdabiya," but the city itself would be destroyed in the process, Ham said in a telephone interview from his U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. "We'd be killing the very people that we're charged with protecting."
Ham said the U.S. expects NATO will take command of the no-fly zone mission on Sunday, with a Canadian three-star general, Charles Bouchard, in charge. Bouchard would report to an American admiral, Samuel Locklear, in Locklear's role as commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Naples, he said.
But with the Obama administration eager to take a back seat in the Libya campaign, it is still when — or even if — the U.S. military's Africa Command would shift the lead role in attacking Libyan ground targets to NATO. U.S officials say the alliance is finalizing the details of the transfer this weekend.
Obama spoke with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders about Libya on Friday afternoon. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, after hearing Obama outline his policy on Libya, remained concerned that the current military action might not be enough force Gadhafi out of power, his spokeswoman said.
Brooke Buchanan said McCain, the top Republican in the Senate Armed Services Committee, supports the military intervention in Libya but fears it could lead to a stalemate that leaves Gadhafi's regime in place.
Obama is scheduled to speak Monday at 7:30 p.m. from the National Defense University in Washington. He is expected to explain how the U.S.-led campaign is shifting to NATO control, and how the multinational approach with Arab support puts the United States in the strongest position of achieve the goals of protecting Libyan civilians, a White House official said.
The president will also put the Libyan campaign into a broader context of his decisions about the use of force, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the president's thinking.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Ben Feller and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
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