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The World

March 21, 2011

Libya action could last 'a while,' official says

(Continued)

ZWITINA, Libya —

The U.S. military, for now at the lead of the international campaign, is trying to walk a fine line over the end game of the assault. It is avoiding for now any appearance that it aims to take out Gadhafi or help the rebels oust him, instead limiting its stated goals to protecting civilians.

Britain also is treading carefully. Foreign Secretary William Hague refused Monday to say if Gadhafi would or could be assassinated, insisting he would not "get drawn into details about what or whom may be targeted."

"I'm not going to speculate on the targets," Hague said in a heated interview with BBC radio. "That depends on the circumstances at the time."

A military official said Air Force B-2 stealth bombers flew 25 hours in a round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and dropped 45 2,000-pound bombs.

What happens if rebel forces eventually go on the offensive against Gadhafi's troops remains unclear.

Rebels defended their support of the international intervention into Libya — apparently feeling the sting of criticism from other Libyans and Arabs who warned the country could be divided or collapse into a civil war.

"Libya will not turn into Somalia or Iraq. It will not be divided. We are battling — the Libyan people — are battling a gang of mercenaries," Mohammed al-Misrati, a rebel spokesman in the stronghold of Misrata, told Al-Jazeera on Monday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said late Sunday that the U.S. expects turn over control of the operation to a coalition headed by France, Britain or NATO "in a matter of days," reflecting concern that the U.S. military was stretched thin by its current missions. Turkey was blocking NATO action, which requires agreement by all 28 members of the alliance.

___

Al-Shalchi reported from Tripoli, Libya. Associated Press writers Diaa Hadid in Cairo; Laurence Joan-Grange in Paris; and Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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