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NATO set to take command in Libya

The Associated Press

BENGHAZI, Libya -- Fighter jets hit aircraft and a crossroads military base deep inside Libya yesterday, and NATO appeared poised to assume command of the international operation that is working to thwart Moammar Gadhafi's forces by land, sea and air. A senior Pentagon official said the United States would likely continue flying combat missions.

France, meanwhile, set a time frame on the international action at days or weeks -- not months.

The possibility of a looming deadline raised pressure on rebel forces. So did the arms embargo, which keeps both Gadhafi and his outgunned opposition from getting more weapons. The rebels were so strapped yesterday that they handed out sneakers -- and not guns -- at one of their checkpoints.

"We are facing cannons, T-72 and T-92 tanks, so what do we need? We need anti-tank weapons, things like that," Col. Ahmed Omar Bani, a military spokesman, told reporters in Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital. "We are preparing our army now. Before there was no army, from now there is an idea to prepare a new army with new armaments and new morals."

The Gadhafi regime appeared equally hard-pressed, asking international forces to spare its broadcast and communications infrastructure.

"Communications, whether by phones or other uses, are civilian and for the good of the Libyan nation to help us provide information, knowledge and coordinate everyday life. If these civilian targets are hit, it will make life harder for millions of civilians around Libya," Moussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, told reporters in Tripoli.

In Washington, Navy Adm. William Gortney told reporters that the U.S. role would predominantly be in support of allied partners, with refueling missions, surveillance, reconnaissance and other noncombat flights. But he also said he expects U.S. planes would continue flying some strike missions.

Representatives for the regime and rebels were expected to attend an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who described it as a part of an effort to reach a cease-fire and political solution.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said the international action would last days or possibly weeks, but not months. But he told RTL radio that in addition to protecting civilians, the mission "is also about putting Gadhafi's opponents, who are fighting for democracy and freedom, in a situation of taking back the advantage."

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