F16 fighter jet.
(photo credit: Reuters)
WASHINGTON - A coalition of countries conducting air strikes against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces launched 22 Tomahawk missiles in the last 24 hours, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
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Coalition countries also flew 115 strike sorties, the Pentagon said in a new tally of military activities over the last 24 hours.
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Earlier, at least three powerful explosions were heard in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Tuesday, Reuters reporters there said.
It was not clear what had caused the blasts.
The explosions came hours after a top US and NATO commander said that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is likely to leave power if an international military drive applies a full range of military pressure on him.
"If we work all the elements of power, we have a more than reasonable chance of Gaddafi leaving, because the entire international community is arrayed against him," Admiral James Stavridis, who is NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and also the commander of US European Command, said during testimony at the US Senate.
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Earlier Tuesday, Gaddafi's forces attacked rebel fighters with a hail of machinegun and rocket firee, prompting a panicked, chaotic retreat to the town of Bin Jawad, a Reuters witness said.
As the onslaught began, rebels jumped behind sand dunes to fire back but they gave up after a few minutes, jumped into their pick-up trucks and sped off down the road to Bin Jawad, about 150 km (100 miles) east of Gaddafi's home town of Sirte.
Shells landed near the road as they retreated.
In a separate incident, US forces attacked three Libyan ships, including a coast guard vessel, to stop them firing indiscriminately at merchant ships in the port of Misrata, military officials said on Tuesday.
The action on Monday night was against the Libyan coast guard vessel Vittoria and two smaller craft. The Vittoria was beached. One of the smaller craft was destroyed and the other abandoned, the US Sixth Fleet said in a statement.
The statement from the fleet flagship's home port in southern Italy said the the US forces involved were an Air Force A-10 thunderbolt attack aircraft, the guided missile destroyer USS Barry, and a Navy P-3C maritime patrol aircraft.
The statement said the attack took place after "confirmed reports Vittoria and accompanying craft were firing indiscriminately at merchant vessels" in the port of the city 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli.
President Barack Obama told Americans on Monday the United States would work with its allies
to hasten the day when Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi leaves power, but would not use force to topple him.
In a nationally televised address, Obama -- accused by many lawmakers of
failing to explain the US role in the Western air campaign against
Gaddafi's loyalists -- made the case for his decision to intervene
militarily in the Libya conflict.
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