WASHINGTON — Even after a week of U.S.-led air strikes, forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are a potent threat to civilians, say Pentagon officials who are considering expanding the firepower and airborne surveillance systems in the military campaign.
"Every day, the pressure on Gadhafi and his regime is increasing," President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, aired just after Libyan rebels regained control of the eastern city of Ajdabiya. It was the first major turnaround in an uprising that once appeared on the verge of defeat.
Obama also readied for a speech to the nation Monday evening to explain his decision-making on Libya to a public weary of a decade of war.
Lawmakers from both parties have complained that the president has not sought their input about the U.S. role in Libya or stated clearly the U.S. goals and exit strategy.
"The United States should not and cannot intervene every time there's a crisis somewhere in the world," Obama said in the speech Saturday. But with Gadhafi threatening "a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region ... it's in our national interest to act. And it's our responsibility. This is one of those times."
Among the weapons under consideration for use in Libya is the Air Force's AC-130 gunship, armed with cannons that shoot from the side doors. 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 missile strikes last Saturday to establish a no-fly zone and prevent Gadhafi from attacking his own people.