US hails 'effective' Libya air war
Naples - US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta hailed NATO's air campaign in Libya Friday as he met US Navy personnel involved in operations at the allied joint force command base in Naples.
Panetta thanked personnel for their role in "what has proven to be a very effective air operation".
He also received a briefing and intelligence update from Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, who is leading the air war, and other top brass.
The Pentagon chief on Thursday called the Nato intervention a "remarkable achievement" and hailed the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime. He made his comments after talks with fellow allied defence ministers in Brussels.
He said that allies were considering when to halt the bombing campaign and that it would depend in part on the strength of local forces on the ground, who have encircled Gaddafi’s loyalists in two key regime bastions.
Nato defence ministers reached a consensus on the conditions for ending the six-month Libya air war, he said.
Panetta said there were four "guidelines" for deciding on when to halt the campaign.
The first condition was the outcome of the battle for Gaddafi’s birthplace, Sirte. The others were whether Gaddafi forces could still attack civilians; whether Gaddafi himself could command fighters; and whether the new leaders could secure the country.
Panetta's talks with allied commanders came as fighting raged in Sirte after forces loyal to Gaddafi tried to break a siege. Fighters loyal to Libya's new regime sent reinforcements to Gaddafi’s other major holdout of Bani Walid.
Gaddafi called on Libyans to turn out in their millions to demonstrate against the country's new rulers, the National Transitional Council (NTC), in an audio message broadcast on Syria-based Arrai television.
After knocking out air defence sites in Libya at the outset of the campaign, the US military took on a low-profile role in the Nato operation with British and French aircraft taking the lead.
The United States, which carried out about a quarter of all sorties in the six-month campaign, provided crucial support with airborne refuelling of fighter aircraft, surveillance planes - including unmanned drones - and specialists to draw up bombing targets.
The United States has conducted about 75% of all refuelling missions and 70%-80% of all surveillance and reconnaissance flights in the operation, US officials said.
The American military currently has more than 70 aircraft deployed in the campaign and more than 7 000 personnel have taken part, officials said.