Skip to main content

What should NATO bomb first, soldiers or Gadhafi himself?

By Nic Robertson, CNN
Click to play
'Complete chaos' at Libyan hospital
  • CNN source says NATO believes the U.N. resolution on Libya justifies killing Moammar Gadhafi.
  • NATO replies: "We are simply not targeting individuals."
  • NATO is trying to decide what to bomb first, Gadhafi's army or the leader himself.

Abu Dhabi (CNN) -- Night after night, day after day, NATO aircraft have hammered presidential compounds in Tripoli, Libya. I have walked over the piles of rubble.

What I and my CNN colleagues have seen, particularly in recent days, gives additional credence to reporting by CNN's counter terrorism analyst Fran Townsend that NATO's leadership believes the U.N. resolution on Libya justifies killing the country's leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Townsend's source, a senior NATO military official with knowledge of NATO's Libyan operations, also implied more could be done to target Gadhafi.

The comments drew a rapid response from a NATO spokeswoman, hinting at an internal rift within the organization over tactics.

Libyan girl loses leg in rocket blast
Timeline: NATO ramps up pressure on Libya
  • Libya
  • Moammar Gadhafi
  • NATO

"We are targeting critical military capabilities that could be used to attack civilians, including command and control centers that could be used to plan and organize such attacks," spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. "We are simply not targeting individuals."

Townsend's source points out that Gadhafi commands Libya's military and is at the center of its command and control.

Gadhafi, as several diplomats noted at a Libya contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, is willing to watch his army get bombed into the dirt rather than quit.

Indeed, just this week Gadhafi said in a radio address he would die rather than step down.

What seems to up for debate at NATO is, with limited resources, what should it bomb first? Should NATO go after Gadhafi's army around rebel strongholds like Misrata, which won't do anything to remove the dictator?

Or should NATO relentlessly pursue the man himself, because the longer he is around the longer the war drags out and the bigger the final cost of picking up the pieces?

Three weeks before he steps down as U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates made clear that he is not happy with the way things are going.

He warned NATO chiefs the alliance's European partners are relying too heavily on the United States.

"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country -- yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference," he said.

The pointed language highlights the urgency of pursuing an end game -- getting Gadhafi and not his troops.

Part of complete coverage on
'Sons of Mubarak' in plea for respect
Pro-Mubarak supporters believe Egypt's former president is innocent of charges of corruption and killing protesters.
Timeline of the conflict in Libya
Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a nationwide civil war.
Who are these rebels?
After months of seeming stalemate, Libyan rebels declared they were moving in on Tripoli. But who are they?
Why NATO's Libya mission has shifted
Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
Interactive map: Arab unrest
Click on countries in CNN's interactive map to see the roots of their unrest and where things stand today.
Send your videos, stories
Are you in the Middle East or North Africa? Send iReport your images. Don't do anything that could put you at risk.
Libya through Gadhafi's keyhole
Behind the official smiles for the cameras some people in Libya's capital are waiting for the rebels, reports CNN's Ivan Watson.
How Arab youth found its voice
Tunisia's Mohamed Bouazizi not only ignited a series of revolts but heralded the first appearance of Arab youth on the stage of modern history.