Members of the NATO alliance have warned Libyan rebels they will be subject to bombardment if they attack civilians.
The commander of the NATO operation over Libyan airspace, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, warned Thursday that anyone attacking non-combatants would be “ill-advised to continue such activities.”
A senior NATO spokeswoman said the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the protection of Libyan civilians “applies to both sides” in the conflict.
Also Thursday, a senior U.S. official told The New York Times that Washington has conveyed a similar message to anti-government forces in Libya. He said NATO “will be compelled to defend civilians,” whether they support Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi or the opposition.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeated his strong opposition to putting any American forces in Libya, saying there will be no U.S. troops on the ground as long as he has his job. He spoke after U.S. media reported the CIA has sent operatives into Libya to gather intelligence and make contact with the opposition.
Gates said he could not speak for the CIA about its role, but he acknowledged the U.S. does not have adequate information about Libya’s rebel forces.
Gates said political and economic pressures eventually will drive Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from power. He said the NATO-led operation now under way can degrade the Libyan leader’s military capacity, but that Mr. Gadhafi’s removal will happen only over time and by his own people.
The military leader said that with NATO now enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya, the U.S. military will “significantly ramp down” its operations. He described the U.S. military involvement against Mr. Gadhafi as a “limited one,” saying it does not include regime change.
NATO assumed full command of air operations over Libya early Thursday. Alliance officials said the allies have supplied 205 aircraft and 21 navy vessels for the military operation that performed more than 90 sorties on Thursday.