The U.S. military says an Air Force fighter jet has crashed in Libya, amid an international military campaign to cripple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses and protect civilians from his forces.
A spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command Vince Crawley said the crash likely was caused by a mechanical problem and not gunfire. Crawley said one crew member has been recovered and the other is “in the process” of being recovered.
Coalition forces pounded Libya for a third straight night Monday.
U.S. General Carter Ham said Monday that the coalition will expand the United Nations-authorized no-fly zone it is enforcing over Libya. But he said the allied bombing attacks are likely to become less frequent unless something unexpected happens.
Rebels driven back by pro-Gadhafi forces before the air attacks have yet to capitalize on the campaign, raising concerns that the conflict could enter a stalemate.
Poorly-organized rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya said they were driven back Monday by rocket and tank fire from government loyalists still controlling entrances to the city.
General Ham said the coalition has no mandate to provide direct support to the rebels, who began an uprising last month aimed at ending Gadhafi’s 42-year rule.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told the nation’s parliament Monday that the coalition has “neutralized” Libyan air defenses and made “good progress” in achieving its mission to protect civilians. He said coalition operations averted what he called “bloody massacre” of residents in the rebels’ eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
General Ham said coalition airstrikes had left pro-Gadhafi fighters who were near Benghazi “with little will or capability to resume offensive operations.”
In the west, residents of Misrata said government tanks and snipers besieging the rebel-held city fired on opposition protesters Monday, killing at least nine people and wounding more than 50.
Also Monday, witnesses said the rebel-held town of Zintan, near the Tunisian border, faced heavy shelling by pro-government forces.