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US claims Libya bombing success

The US has claimed initial success two days into an assault on Libya that included some of the heaviest firepower in the American arsenal - long-range bombers designed for the Cold War.

A second wave of attacks, mainly from American fighters and bombers, targeted Libyan ground forces and air defences following an opening barrage on Saturday of sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US expects to turn control of the mission over to a coalition - probably headed either by the French and British or by Nato - "in a matter of days".

But late on Sunday Nato's top decision-making body failed to agree on a plan to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, although it did approve a military plan to implement a UN arms embargo.

The leading US military officer suggested that Muammar Gaddafi might stay in power in spite of the military assault aimed at protecting civilians, calling into question the larger objective of an end to Gaddafi's erratic 42-year rule. Other US officials have suggested that a weakened and isolated Gaddafi could be ripe for a coup.

At the Pentagon, Navy Vice Admiral William E Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference that the back-to-back assaults on Saturday and Sunday had inflicted heavy damage. They largely silenced Gaddafi's air defences, blunted his army's drive on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and isolated and confused his forces.

Adm Gortney's assessment suggested that further strikes on the scale of Saturday's heavy assault with sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles may not be needed, although he did not rule out further attacks.

He said Gaddafi himself is not a target, but he could not guarantee the strongman's safety.

Inside Gaddafi's huge Tripoli compound, an administration building was hit and badly damaged late on Sunday. An Associated Press photographer at the scene said half of the round, three-storey building was knocked down, with pieces of a cruise missile scattered around the scene.

The systems targeted most closely were Libya's SA-5 surface-to-air missiles, Russian-made weaponry that could pose a threat to allied aircraft many miles off the Libyan coastline. Libya has a range of other air defence weaponry, including portable surface-to-air missiles that are more difficult to eliminate by bombing.

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