March 24th, 2011
01:00 PM ET

Despite grounded air force, Libyan troops still on attack

Chris Lawrence and Pam Benson

Washington (CNN) - The Libyan military has been pounded by coalition airstrikes neutralizing its air capabilities but it is still able to fight and maneuver on the ground, U.S. officials said.

The Libyan Air Force has been grounded after five days of operations by the coalition forces. More than 160 Tomahawk missiles and several hundred strikes from fighter jets have virtually destroyed Moammar Gadhafi's air defense.

The toll on the air system is "to the point where we can operate with near impunity across Libya," said Vice Marshall Greg Bagwell of Britain's Royal Air Force.

Despite the targeting of mobile launchers, Libyan forces still have numerous mobile launchers that could pose a risk to coalition planes.

But it's the ground forces where Gadhafi has more maneuverability because of the coalition's limitations in fighting Libyan forces only from the air.

Gadhafi's forces have retreated from the eastern city of Benghazi, but continue to fight in other cities including Misrata and Ajabiya using "tanks, artillery, rocket launchers," according to Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, chief of staff for the coalition Odyssey Dawn.

The coalition is able to strike at forces moving toward cities, but once they are inside city limits, dropping bombs with enough precision to avoid civilian casualties is difficult.

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