WASHINGTON: Deposed Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi still has small numbers of loyal fighters but his ability to influence events “has largely been eliminated,” the commander of US forces in Africa said Wednesday.
General Carter Ham, who heads the US Africa command, or AFRICOM, told reporters that Kadhafi is “probably” still commanding some troops, but “certainly a very, very small number, a significantly smaller number of regime loyalists.”
“It seems to me that his ability to influence day-to-day activities has largely been eliminated, probably not completely eliminated, but pretty significantly.”
He said there remained “some pockets in (Kadhafi's home town) Sirte, and some residuals in Bani Walid,” two pro-Kadhafi bastions where civilians have reported fighting in recent days between Kadhafi loyalists and forces under transitional government authority.
When asked specifically whether Kadhafi was therefore a legitimate military target, Ham insisted it was a “policy matter.”
“We don't target individuals, we target capabilities. And so a command and control capability or a facility that we go after, if we had some indication that he was present at that facility, it would not have a significant effect on the decision to strike or not strike,” he said.
“Considerable” military resources would need to go into tracking down a specific person in hiding, and such a mission would detract from the overall aim of reducing capability by striking command facilities, Ham added.
“If he happens to be at one of those sites, then so be it.”
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that “remnants of Kadhafi's regime still constitute a threat to the civilian population” and that the North Atlantic alliance would pursue its campaign as long as such a threat remained.
After leading the air campaign against Libya in the days following UN approval of action against Kadhafi forces to protect civilians, the US military handed control of the operations to NATO.
NATO's UN mandate expires on September 27, and Rasmussen said the military alliance would begin considerations this week as to whether it would have to prolong it.
Ham said that even with a possible extension of NATO's Libya mission, “they're probably closer to the end of (it) than they are to the beginning.”
The United Nations should have a “very significant role in post-conflict Libya,” he said, but added that the world body was also looking for outside actors to take on a leading role in reconstruction, security and stabilization operations. AGENCIES