U.S. Fighter Jet Crashes In Libya - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

U.S. Fighter Jet Crashes In Libya

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- A U.S. Air Force fighter jet crashed in Libya after experiencing an equipment malfunction, but both crew members ejected safely and are now out of Libya and in U.S. hands, the U.S. military and a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday.

A pilot and weapons officer aboard an F-15E Strike Eagle had flown from Aviano Air Base in Italy to Libya when the fighter experienced problems, the U.S. military command for Africa said in a statement. Both pilots ejected, the statement said.

The pilot and weapons officer suffered minor injuries but landed safely in Libya, the military said.

A U.S. military plane picked up the pilot, a senior defense official said. Libyan rebels recovered the second crew member and "took good care of him" until coalition forces "could come get him," the official said.

Both crew members are out of Libya, the official said.

The crash was "not due to enemy or hostile actions," said Kenneth Fidler, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command.

It came after a U.S. official said an international mission to weaken the force of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has stopped the ruler's momentum. But criticism and questions about the operation persist, with no clear answer on who will take over command of the military operation and what the end game or exit strategy will be.

Missiles and anti-aircraft fire pierced the night sky in Tripoli hours before dawn broke Tuesday, the fourth day of the multinational effort to protect civilians from attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces.

The United States fired 20 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya in the past 12 hours, a military spokeswoman said early Tuesday morning. A total of 159 Tomahawks have been fired by the United States and the United Kingdom since Operation Odyssey Dawn started Saturday. The mission includes enforcement of a no-fly zone.

Cmdr. Monica Rousselow also said one of the three U.S. submarines that participated at the beginning of the operation has since departed the area. She declined to say which submarine.

The international operation has targeted air defense sites and command centers. But Gadhafi himself has not been targeted, and there are no plans to kill the leader, said Gen. Carter Ham, the head of U.S. forces in Africa.

"I could see accomplishing the military mission, which has been assigned to me, and the current leader would remain the current leader," he said.

"We think we have been very effective in degrading his ability to control his regime forces."

Ham said no Libyan aircraft have been observed flying since the military operations began Saturday. And air attacks have stopped Libyan ground forces from approaching the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Violence has raged in Libya following protests calling for democracy and demanding an end to Gadhafi's almost 42-year-long rule. Protesters have been met by force from the Gadhafi regime, and numerous world leaders -- including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- have denounced the killings of civilians by Gadhafi's troops.

The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution Thursday that allows member states "to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country ... while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory." It also imposed a no-fly zone.

Barak Barfi, a research fellow with the New America Foundation, said "it's certainly clear" that the allied coalition has stymied the onslaught of Gadhafi troops against rebels in eastern Libya.

"Before the decision in the U.N. was taken Thursday, it seemed like Gadhafi was going to overrun the opposition in a matter of days," he said.

rotect civilians in that country. The action was authorized by the United Nations Security Council.

But "it's unclear if the rebels can form under any type of organized command and move forward now that the airstrikes have taken away Gadhafi's offensive capabilities," Barfi said Tuesday. "It's unclear at this point in time who would take control after Gadhafi leaves. We know that there are really no state institutions in Libya."

Gadhafi -- who has not spoken publicly since he promised a "long-drawn war" with "the new Nazis" on Sunday -- has announced a cease-fire. But bloodshed Monday in Misrata indicated a very different reality, according to an opposition spokesman.

The spokesman, Mohamed -- who would not divulge his last name due to concern for his safety -- said Monday the destruction in the key city was "unimaginable" and that Misrata was bombarded heavily over the past four days by forces loyal to Gadhafi.

"He keeps talking about a cease-fire, but he hasn't observed that for one minute here," Mohamed said.

Based on what he saw at a hospital, Mohamed said Monday's death toll among civilians at the hands of pro-Gadhafi forces was 15. Another 51 civilians died in weekend attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces, Mohamed said.

Gadhafi opponents have expressed gratitude for the foreign intervention. Anti-Gadhafi residents in Benghazi said loyalist forces would have massacred them if they had been able to enter the city.

The international military coalition focused Monday on extending the no-fly zone to al-Brega, Misrata and then to Tripoli, a distance of about 1,000 kilometers (more than 600 miles).

Air forces from France, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Britain flew missions to maintain a no-fly zone over Benghazi, Ham said.

Canadian and Belgian forces joined coalition forces Monday, he said, and aircraft carriers from Italy and France have added "significant capability" in the region.

The United Arab Emirates had been prepared to send two squadrons to participate in the international effort, said Maj. Gen. (Staff) Pilot Khaled Abdullah Al-Buainnain -- the former commander of the Emirates' air force and air defense. However, he said, those plans have changed due to criticism by the United States and the European Union of the Gulf Cooperation Council's deployment of troops to help the monarchy stabilize Bahrain.

The UAE has chosen not to take a military role in Libya until Washington and the European Union clarify their position on the use of troops in Bahrain, but it will contribute to the humanitarian effort in Libya, Al-Buainnain said.

About 80 sorties were flown Monday -- more than half of them by air forces representing countries other than the United States, Ham said.

But support for the attacks was not universal. The Russian government said the mission has killed innocent civilians and urged more caution. India, China and Venezuela have also spoken out against the airstrikes.

The Libyan government said over the weekend that 48 people -- mostly women, children and clerics -- have died in allied attacks.

U.S. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, however, has said there is no indication of any civilian casualties. And France -- which conducted the first strike in Libya on Saturday when fighter jets fired at a military vehicle -- also disputed claims of civilian deaths.

The United States has said it wants to hand over leadership of the military operation in the coming days. But it's unclear to whom the reins will go.

NATO could command the coalition's no-fly mission in Libya, but some Arab nations are hesitant to fly under a NATO banner -- and that has held up the move, said one official who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of negotiations.

"NATO has the capability to do a rapid switchover," the official said. "The problem is, they have to do everything by consensus."

If Arab nations don't sign on to a NATO mission, another option would be to create an ad-hoc command-and-control structure piece by piece, the defense official said. But that, the official said, would take time.

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