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THE SITUATION ROOM

Libya War

Aired March 20, 2011 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight in Libya, heavy damage following an apparent attack on Moammar Gadhafi's compound. And despite the antiaircraft fire, crippling blows to Libya's air defenses.

The U.S. defense secretary says "Operation Odyssey Dawn" is off to a strong and successful start but he also sounds a warning and the U.S. military says, despite Libyan claims, there are no indications of civilian casualties.

In Benghazi, the rebels celebrate as the Libyan military calls for an immediate ceasefire. Allied forces say they'll wait and see if this time that promise is genuine.

Good evening, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers watching CNN networks around the world. This is a CNN special, "Libya War."

Tonight we're live from five continents as we cover military movements, the political back-and-forth, and the diplomatic steps being taken against Moammar Gadhafi and his regime.

Here's what we know right now. It appears a coalition missile strike may have hit a building in a compound belonging to Moammar Gadhafi. There was no evidence that Gadhafi was inside the building that was destroyed. Allied commanders say Gadhafi himself is not -- repeat, not -- a direct target in this operation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There are breaking reports of a plume of smoke over Gadhafi's residence.

VICE ADM. WILLIAM GORTNEY, U.S. NAVY CENTRAL COMMAND: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you guarantee that coalition forces are not going to target Gadhafi?

GORTNEY: I can -- at this particular point I can guarantee that he's not on a targeting list.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there a "but" to that?

GORTNEY: What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there a "but"? GORTNEY: Well, the rest of that is that he happens to be in a place, if he's inspecting the surface-to-air missile site, we don't have any idea that he's there or not, then --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This is his residence.

GORTNEY: Yes, but no, we're not targeting his residence this time. We are there to set the conditions and enforce the United Nations Security Council resolution. That's what we're doing right now and limiting it to that.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The U.S. military says coalition attacks have significantly degraded -- their word, degraded -- Libya's air defenses. Ground troops also are a target. There are pictures of what's now left of the Libyan military convoy after a coalition strike near the eastern city of Benghazi.

The Libyan military is calling for a ceasefire, but witnesses report pro-Gadhafi forces are attacking the port city of Misrata using tanks, artillery and cannons. Amid all of this, there are some signs of cracks in the coalition.

The Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa says the coalition strikes differ from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone. Much more on that coming up.

But we have reporters in Libya right now. Nic Robertson is in Tripoli, that's where Gadhafi is. Arwa Damon is in Benghazi, that's where the rebels are.

Let's start with Nic first.

Nic, only within the past few minutes dramatic developments where you are. Tell us what's going on.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, government officials took us to the compound of Moammar Gadhafi here, a large heavily secured compound about a mile and a half from here just over my shoulder in this direction from where we heard several loud explosions and heavy antiaircraft gunfire a couple of hours ago in the evening.

We were seeing smoke rising for that -- from that compound, and when government officials took us there, they took us to a building inside that palace compound area, a four-story building. It appeared to have two large holes punched in the roof. We were told they were hit. The building was hit by cruise missiles.

Those two holes had both collapsed down the roof. The roof had fallen over across sort of two floors of the building. There was a lot of debris, concrete debris spread out over an area of perhaps 100 or so or more yards. Many rooms in the building were heavily destroyed as certainly the section of the building that was hit was destroyed. The roof collapsed. The concrete, very heavy concrete with thick rebar protruding from it, very heavy duty rebar, so this appeared to be a very strongly constructed building. And while we there a government official told us this was a building used on the compound by officials, by Gadhafi officials. They said that there were no casualties in this building.

And while we were there they were pulling out parts of missile parts like this from the building. And if you can see this here, pulling parts of missiles out from the building. And it has the serial number on it here in English. This seems to be a motor. But it appears to be -- and I've seen many cruise missiles that have been targeted buildings before in Iraq and other places in the Balkans, and this appears to me to be part of a missile system.

Not sure if it's a cruise missile or not. Certainly the government officials who took us there told us that they believe that the building had been hit by cruise missiles. It says on here, "fin rotator system actuator." That's what this part has.

It's been quite a chilly night and these parts as they were pulled out of the building still felt quite warm. So there was -- we didn't get the impression that they've been planted in the building some hours earlier, they were pulled out from underneath the rubble, they're still very dusty.

So I don't think we at that time had time to also felt that this was a fabrication for what we were seeing, these parts pulled out of the building. But the question a government official raised down there and asked us a number of times, he said the Pentagon spokesman said that the Gadhafi's compound would not be targeted.

The government officials had taken us to a building they said was targeted and they said by cruise missiles and the parts they've shown us appear to be -- that's what they are, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hold on a second, Nic, because Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, retired U.S. army is here in the studio with us. He's familiar with the part that you just showed. And I want -- I want you to show our viewers that. He can tell us specifically what that is.

General, you know about this part that Nic just held up.

GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, what Nic said was it was a fin actuator. So obviously this is one of the mechanisms that's going to cause the cruise missile to turn right, turn left, go up, go down as part of its route from the time it's fired to the time it hits the target.

BLITZER: So it's a legitimate piece of what's left over from a cruise missile.

KIMMITT: It could be. I can't see it myself but as described by Nic Robertson, that's exactly what it would seem to be to me.

BLITZER: And Nic, tell us what also has just happened beyond where you were. There was another building inside the compound in Tripoli where a lot of folks believe Gadhafi is headquartered that was attacked? Is that an additional building that you're talking about?

ROBERTSON: No, Wolf. The one building as far as we can see was the building that was attacked. There's another piece, this is called a globe motor -- doesn't say much more than that, serial numbers, et cetera, on it.

No. It was one building that had had been targeted -- that we saw that had been targeted. We were told by two missiles, but it is about 100 or 150 yards away from a building that was targeted by U.S. bombers in 1986 retaliation for Gadhafi's responsibility in targeting a Berlin discotheque where American service members were killed.

That was back in 1986. A very symbolic for Gadhafi at the heart of his compound where he has claimed in the past family members were killed in that particular -- in that particular bombing. Many people say that was his rationale for going on to bring down Pan Am 103 in 1989.

So this building that we saw was about 150 yards away from that building, and right next to a tent where Gadhafi entertains his VIP guests.

Just a few days before we were told that this building would have been the building where the Russian, Chinese and Indian ambassadors were entertained when they met Moammar Gadhafi in the days before the U.N. resolution when Gadhafi was trying to influence these ambassadors to influence their countries when it came to this -- the vote on the U.N. resolution of the Security Council, Wolf.

So a building, the heart of this compound that's been in recent use that Moammar Gadhafi uses for his VIP guests. That's how it's been explained to us.

BLITZER: All right. Nic, stand by.

Nic is going to be with us and if there are any dramatic developments, where more gunfire, more attacks, you'll let us know right away.

Let's go to the eastern part of Libya. Arwa Damon is in Benghazi, that's the headquarter for the rebels there.

What's the latest from where you are, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the city has been fairly calm, although it is quite eerie here because the majority of the shops remain closed. We've seen an increase in opposition fighter checkpoints. There are searches at those checkpoints, much more diligent as well.

We've seen this ever since Gadhafi's forces launched an attack on this city yesterday. Opposition forces did manage to drive them out. That military unit that launched the attack then this morning came under attack by foreign fighter jets, some 20 miles outside of Benghazi. We went to survey the wreckage and it's really strewn around for miles. We counted at least seven military vehicles ranging from armored personnel carriers to tanks with their turrets that had been blown off, that were all damaged there. We saw a number of burnt bodies.

A lot of residents of Benghazi also heading out to survey the damage themselves, a lot of them thanking the international community for stepping in because they firmly believe that this military unit was planning to launch another attack on Benghazi. They were fearing a massacre. The attack that took place on Saturday, hospital officials tell us that (INAUDIBLE) people were killed.

Eyewitnesses were saying that Gadhafi's forces were firing indiscriminately into civilian areas. But as a result of this airstrikes, it does seem that for the time being, Gadhafi's military machine, at least the machine that were trying to advance on Benghazi has come to a halt.

And everyone who we're talking to here has one simple message, Wolf, and that was a message of thanks.

BLITZER: And so they're grateful right now, these opposition forces, the rebels in Benghazi where you are, to the United States, Britain, France and other members of the coalition that have started to attack Gadhafi's positions in Libya.

DAMON: They most definitely are, Wolf, because this is what they have been calling for all along. We've gradually been seeing the opposition fighter that had gained a significant amount of territory when this all began being beaten back. They simply do not have the military experience or the weaponry to stand up against Gadhafi's very well trained, very well equipped army.

There were great fears that if he did manage to take Benghazi he was going to massacre everybody because, after all, this is not a man who is known to have shown mercy on those who oppose him.

And there was great fear amongst the population because of that reality. People were so desperately calling for this type of foreign intervention. Many people pointing out to us that if the U.S. did in fact get involved, help with this resolution through, it would be one of the first times where we'd be seeing an Arab-Muslim nation thanking western powers for foreign intervention.

The opposition here has this one simple goal, they say, and that is to install freedom and democracy in Libya and now they believe that they do have a fighting chance to accomplish that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa is going to be with us for the next two hours as well. Stand by. I want to bring in Professor Fouad Ajami right now. He's a professor of Middle East studies at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

These opposition forces in Libya, I guess the blunt question, Fouad, right now, from the U.S. perspective, can they really be trusted in the long run?

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Well, Wolf, these are the people we have to trust. These are the people who stood up for a free Libya. These are the people who gave us the so-called revolution of February 17, who rose, who shook their fear, who put it aside and took on the forces of this terrible tyrant.

We kept saying for a while our official -- particularly Secretary of State Clinton kept saying we don't know them, we can't trust them. And everyone from Benghazi was telling us in every way they can that they are businessmen, they are judges, they are lawyers, one or two are former members of the Gadhafi regime who wanted to rid themselves of the stain and the shame of having been associated with this man.

This is the only hand we can play. These are the people we have to protect. We should worry about them. We are worried about them. We shouldn't worry about what Arab opinion elsewhere would have to say. It's Libya that we have to rescue at this time.

BLITZER: If they win, there has been some concern that if they move on Tripoli, for example, get rid of Gadhafi, that there will be a bloodbath, they will really go after some of those tribes that have been the most loyal supporters of Gadhafi.

Is that a fear that the world should consider?

AJAMI: Well, to be honest with you, we have entered the realm of the unknown. I personally don't think so. I don't think this is really about vengeance for them. These are people who just stood up for their right. They found their courage.

At the moment in Arab history when the tyrants seem to be, if you will, vulnerable, so they rose against this terrible man, Moammar Gadhafi, and they found that the rest of the world hesitated for a long time. American diplomacy hesitated. We had to wait. We had to in fact be led into it by Britain and France and in fact we are here because we know what was going to happen.

Gadhafi was on the gates and outskirts of Benghazi and he told us and he told the Libyans what he intended to do for them. He was going to come to them, find them in their homes, in their closets, as he so poetically said it, and he was going to show them no mercy and no pity.

So there was nothing else we could do. We have a -- we have an obligation to protect. The idea of national sovereignty that you can just let a tyrant kill his own people without an invention is really a dated and a very dangerous idea.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami is going to be with us for this hour and next hour.

Stand by , Fouad.

General Kimmitt is going to be with us as well. In fact, I'm going to ask General Kimmitt how concerned the world should be that if Gadhafi does go down, he'll try to destroy the oil fields on the coast of Libya just as Saddam Hussein did back in 1991 along the coast of Kuwait when he was kicked out of Kuwait. What can the U.S. military do about that if anything. We'll also talk about the weapons that are now being used against Gadhafi's forces.

Stay with us. Our special coverage of the "Libya War" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Day two of "Operation Odyssey Dawn" and a new wave of attacks, including U.S. fighter jets involved in going after targets inside Libya.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence shows us the missiles, the jets, all of the equipment used in the latest assault on these Libyan targets. Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the span of just 24 hours we've gone from American ships lobbing missiles from way out in the Mediterranean Sea, to U.S. fighter jets bombing Gadhafi's infantry unit south of Benghazi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): U.S. and British forces launched the first tomahawk missiles from ships and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea.

Why shoot from there? Because in the western part of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi had surface-to-air missiles that could reach up to 180 miles offshore.

GORTNEY: Most of them are on or near the coast, a fact which may their destruction vital to the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

LAWRENCE: American tomahawk missiles can be reprogrammed in flight. If there was a risk of civilian casualties, operators could change the target after launch. But the Navy did not use that ability. Confident it was aiming at military targets.

Moammar Gadhafi says the strikes killed civilians. But a defense official told us if you don't have to reprogram your missile, you're pretty confident in what you're hitting.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The initial operations had been very effective, taken out his -- most of his air defense systems, some of his air fields.

LAWRENCE: By Sunday, it was safe enough for the planes to fly. U.S. jump jets that can take of vertically. B-2 bombers and fighter jets. These are more mobile and went after Gadhafi's ground forces. Firing on tanks and even infantry units to force them back from Benghazi.

GORTNEY: If they are moving and advancing on to the opposition forces into Libya, yes, we will take them under attack. LAWRENCE: According to one estimate, enforcing a full no-fly zone across the country that could cost up to $300 million a week. A limited no-fly zone over northern Libya, perhaps less than $100 million a week.

GORTNEY: It's a vast amount of airspace.

LAWRENCE: So the decision was made to concentrate on northern Libya, in an area that stretches from Benghazi to the capital of Tripoli.

Even though smoke was seen near Gadhafi's headquarters Sunday night, U.S. military officials say there is no mission to take out one man.

GORTNEY: We're not going after Gadhafi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Admiral Bill Gortney told us if Gadhafi happens to be at a place they're targeting, say inspecting a surface-to-air missile site, then the military wouldn't necessarily know he was there.

Now that said, the admiral says that Gadhafi himself is not on any target list and the military is not targeting his compound -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us, thanks very much.

Let's bring back retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He's in Washington. And Johns Hopkins University professor, Fouad Ajami. He's in New York.

General Kimmitt, this whole notion of targeting Gadhafi, the U.S. -- the coalition forces, they can go after command and control facilities but can't necessarily target Gadhafi directly? How do you explain that?

KIMMITT: Well, as Admiral Gortney said, he is not on a target list. It's not as if they can't do that. It seems at this point the Pentagon has chosen not to do that feeling that that's not consistent with the mission that they were given by the U.N. Security Council resolution.

But nonetheless, going after a compound that made be radiating target signals or is a command-and-control network for him to be able to talk to his troops, that clearly seems to be in line with the mission that's been set out in this operation.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, if they in fact go after a certain command-and- control facility and they kill Gadhafi who happens to be there at that time, is it then over? What happens?

AJAMI: Well, I think we should give him a chance to have the martyrdom that he's always talking about. You know characters like Gadhafi, like Saddam, they always tell you they're ready for martyrdom, and then they hide, they run, they do everything they can, they get people as human shields to protect them. I think if Gadhafi is killed the Libyans have a chance to build a better country than the tyranny that this man has constructed, a virtual North Korea on the Mediterranean. These people have known hell for four decades. We should not worry about the vacuum that he would leave behind.

We should not worry about the so-called jihadists will somehow fill the vacuum. All these are really boogiemen in a way. We should focus on what this man has been, on the terror he has been, on the crimes he has committed, on the Lockerbie -- on the attacks on civilian airliners, on all of this, his whole track record. That's what's in front of us.

BLITZER: General Kimmitt, someone who covered the first Gulf War back in 1991, I remember when Saddam Hussein's forces were losing in Kuwait, just before they left they blew up the Kuwaiti oil fields causing an economic and environmental disaster in the Gulf.

Is that a concern right now that if Gadhafi is going to go down, he might blow up his own oil fields in the process? How realistic -- how concerned should we be about that?

KIMMITT: Well, I think we need to be concerned about that, especially since there seems to be a mismatch between the mission that the military has been given and the potential for a situation like that to happen.

It would be very hard to sort of take that mission, protection of the oil fields, and find that anywhere in the U.N. Security Council mandate that was given. Plus, I think we've got to be realistic. If we were in fact to put boots on the ground or other countries put boots on the ground to protect those oil refineries, it just feeds the narrative that we are there not to protect the civilians but in fact to protect the oil.

BLITZER: Fouad, you've studied Gadhafi for as long as he's been in office -- as long as he's been in power, I should say. Is that something you think he's capable of doing, if he's going down ordering the destruction of his own oil fields?

AJAMI: Look. Gadhafi himself said that he built Libya and he will destroy Libya. I mean that's very much in the psychology of this man.

It's hard to know, Wolf. I mean you've covered all these stories and we have entered this kind of imponderable. We don't know what this man will do. We don't know how we will end. We may be lucky, we may take him out, he may not have the chance to do the kinds of things that he's talking about. So we don't know.

BLITZER: The other issue that the U.S. military is deeply concerned about, General Kimmitt, is the mustard gas, some of the poison gas that he has. What's the deep concern there?

KIMMITT: Well, I think Admiral Gortney and Admiral Mullen talked about it today as well. There's something on the order of 2,000 tons of mustard gas in his inventory. Would he in fact take this Nihilist attitude if he was being backed up into his final days and possibly destroy that and allow that to spread throughout his country.

I think those are eventualities that the military has taken into account. I suspect they're watching that very carefully and I would not be surprised if they've got contingency plans if any of those triggers that would indicate he's attempting to destroy his mustard gas inventories are discovered.

BLITZER: Well, the only way you deal with that is you have to get -- what they called boots on the ground. You got to get -- send forces in to deal with that. Is that right?

KIMMITT: Well again, the U.S. has said they're not putting boots on the ground. It could well be that one of our coalition allies may have that as part of their contingency plans but I feel pretty comfortable that because Admiral Mullen seemed so confident that that was an issue that he's got under control as he talked today on the news stations. That seemed to indicate to me that this thing is under control and being watched.

BLITZER: We're going to have General Kimmitt and Professor Ajami both stand by. We have a lot more news that's unfolding right now. Our special report will continue.

We're also getting reaction -- I guess we could say mixed reaction. Some confusing reaction from inside the Arab world to what's going on in Libya. Much more of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today Arab League officials complained that the U.S. and its allies are going beyond the U.N. mandate to enforce a no-fly zone. So senior official of the Obama administration are reaching out, explaining why attacks on Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses are the right thing to do.

In Cairo, Reza Sayah has the latest on the Arab world's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The launch of the no-fly zone over Libya, swift and aggressive. From air and sea, U.S. and French forces pound the Gadhafi regime's military forces and air defense systems, along the Libyan force.

In Cairo, Egypt, Libya's Arab neighbor, many backing the operation.

"He left the international community no choice because he's killing his own people," said this woman.

"A man that kills his own people deserves anything that comes his way."

Despite public support for the no-fly zone and unanimous support last week by the Arab League, a block of 22 Arab countries, Arab nations were absent in the initial stages of "Operation Odyssey Dawn." Egypt's armed forces say they won't participate. MAJ. GEN. HAMDI BEHIT, EGYPTIAN MILITARY ANALYST: There are some fears about the execution of the resolution.

SAYAH: One military analyst, retired Egyptian Major General Hamdi Behit, says no Arab leadership wants to be linked to the death of fellow Arab civilians.

BEHIT: This is a matter of dignity, a matter of honor. I can't use Arab forces against Arab people.

SAYAH: Behit says Arab nations are likely to stay out of the initial stages of the no-fly zone where air strikes are common. Odds of civilian casualties high.

(On camera): Analysts say once the operation shifts from an attack mode to more of a patrol mode, some Arab nations like the United Arab Emirates, with one of the largest and most modern fleet of fighter jets in the region, could take part in the operation.

(Voice-over): Gadhafi's propaganda machine is already spinning the no-fly zone as a western operation against an Arab nation. That's why for U.S. and western powers, Arab involvement is critical.

The top military official in the U.S., Admiral Mike Mullen, said Qatar is moving its forces to the region. What Qatar's forces will do is unclear. So is the role of Arab nations as symbolic or active participants in a rare military campaign against a fellow Arab state.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Reza is joining us now from Cairo.

Reza, Amr Moussa of the Arab League seems to be sending some conflicting signals right now. Do they support what the -- what the coalition is doing? Do they not support what the coalition is doing?

And I know that U.S. officials have been on the phone with various Arab leaders, including the president of the United States with King Abdullah of Jordan. There seems to be an inconsistency coming. Talk a little bit about that.

SAYAH: Yes. For several hours it wasn't clear what the Arab League's position was. Tonight here in Cairo at an emergency meeting the Arab League did come out and clarify its position saying, yes, we do support this no-fly zone so let's move forward and protect the citizens of Libya.

But very interesting, just several hours earlier you had Amr Moussa, according to several reports come out and be very critical of the initial stages of this no-fly zone, essentially saying it was too aggressive, saying that the Arab League wanted the protection of civilians, not the bombardment of civilians.

Certainly they seem to have back-pedaled from that message but that certainly signals the concern among some Arab officials at the pace and the aggressiveness of the initial stages of this no-fly zone and it's -- I think a lot of people are going to be eager to see if this pace continues, where the Arab support is going to go.

Right now it's there based on their last statement. A big relief for Washington and western powers who view that Arab support as critical in establishing the legitimacy of this operation against an Arab nation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Reza. Reza Sayah is joining us from Cairo. We'll check back with you as well.

Arab support for this operation obviously very, very critical. There's other breaking news happening right now. Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us on the phone.

You're getting new information, Chris. What are you learning?

LAWRENCE: Hello?

BLITZER: I think we just lost Chris Lawrence but we're going to try to reconnect with him. Chris getting --

LAWRENCE: I hear you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, are you there?

LAWRENCE: Yes, I hear you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Tell us what you're learning.

LAWRENCE: You know, Wolf, we're getting some more information about the air strike that Nic Robertson reported seeing evidence of earlier. A senior coalition military official now confirms that the coalition did hit the area of Moammar Gadhafi's compound.

He says that Gadhafi's compound was targeted because it contains capabilities to exercise command and control over some of the Libyan forces. And he said the coalition goal is to degrade those military capabilities.

Now this official insisted to us that Gadhafi, his residence, neither was the intended target. The official says the target inside the sprawling compound was a legitimate one because it contained the military capabilities there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Were they specific, Chris, on what those military capabilities are? Were they radar equipment? What were the military capabilities there? Communications equipment?

LAWRENCE: He didn't get specific in that but I -- the way that I understood it from speaking with him was that it was not necessarily, say, surface-to-air missile capability. It was more something more like what you described, communication equipment, the ability to direct his forces and command them from that area.

BLITZER: And clearly, it would have the other advantage from the coalition perspective of presumably demoralizing Gadhafi's supporters if the U.S., the French, the British, the other members of this coalition could go ahead and successfully launch attacks so close to where Gadhafi himself might be.

I think that would probably be one of the considerations of the U.S. and the coalition military. Are they saying anything about that?

LAWRENCE: Exactly, Wolf. And I mean if you -- if you look back at past history, I mean you well know the history of the Iraq war in which the United States tried to downgrade Saddam Hussein's ability to command the Iraqi forces ahead of the larger military effort that went on there.

So there is a somewhat historical basis, you know, for this maneuver to try to cut off the head, so to speak, in not allowing a leader to exercise full command of his forces. We know from earlier in the day Admiral Mike Mullen, speaking publicly, talked about how one of the goals of the coalition now that some of the air defenses have been neutralized was to cut some of the supply lines, noting that Moammar Gadhafi's forces were now stretched from an area from Benghazi to Tripoli.

And that one of the goals of the coalition would be to cut their supply lines, cut off logistics, which again would have that added effect, as you noted, of demoralizing some of the troops in the field.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Chris. General Mark Kimmitt is here with me.

This sort of makes sense what the U.S., the coalition, are trying to do if they want to rattle Gadhafi. That would be a pretty dramatic way of doing it.

KIMMITT: Well, I think Chris is right, except I would take exception with his comment that this was to cut off his head. That's a decapitation strategy. I don't think that's what's going on here.

BLITZER: When you say cut off the head, you mean to cut off the head of the entire Libyan military.

KIMMITT: Right. It's more likely to isolate Colonel Gadhafi from his forces, stop his ability to command and control those forces out in Benghazi area, so on and so forth. So sort of isolate him rather than try to decapitate him. Separate him in communications with his troops, so confusion on the battlefield.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami is with us as well, the professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Fouad, I've repeatedly been told by senior U.S. officials that the objective, at least one of the major objectives, is to wean away, to convince those military leaders surrounding Gadhafi that it's over and you better break with him to save yourself.

Here's the question. Based on what you know about Gadhafi's most loyal military supporters, is that doable?

AJAMI: Well, I think it's very doable. I think these people will simply have to calculate the odds. So long as they live in this Libyan hothouse, so long as the coalition didn't come after them, so long as there was no price to pay they believed Gadhafi and they believed his bravado and they bet on him because he had always bet that in the end the moment the coalition would materialize against him.

And we waited. As we know, we waited three weeks, 500 miles we gave him. So these lieutenants of Moammar Gadhafi, being of the character that they are, they will just simply see if the master has lost his touch and if indeed he's going to end up running for cover and running for his life.

I do want to say one thing about this whole argument that we need the Arab world and we need Arab legitimacy. We should be careful about this. The legitimacy of this war has to do with the right to protect people.

We don't really rely on Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, because we know well, the ways of these Arab officials. They say one thing behind closed doors and one thing in the open.

So I think we should just see this war for what it is. A humanitarian intervention, force on us to rescue the Libyan people and to rescue the people of Benghazi who were the last holdouts against this push by Moammar Gadhafi.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break, Fouad, but very quickly before I go to break, is it your opinion, realistically, that in the days to come, sooner rather than later, we will see an Arab air force attack Gadhafi's targets in Libya?

AJAMI: Allah willing, as they say. We do have participation by the Qataris. I mean imagine when possibly the smallest state in the Arab world which has some guts wants to participate in this war. More of them need to come.

Arabs need to rescue Arabs. They shouldn't just stay on the sidelines and second-guess the western mission and second-guess the Americans and the British and the French. It's time to end these kinds of double talk and sophistry.

BLITZER: Qatar is a unique country. Not only is it the home of a regional U.S. military command, the central command's regional headquarters in the Gulf, it's also the home of Al Jazeera, as a lot of our viewers know as well.

All right. We have a lot more to cover. We're going to stay on top of this story, including the breaking news. You heard it from our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. Why the U.S. and its coalition partners targeted a Gadhafi building. Right in the heart of Tripoli in his main compound.

We'll check in with Peter Bergen as well, he's getting ready to compare Libya to what happened eight years ago in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's continue this discussion on breaking news. Chris Lawrence, our Pentagon correspondent, noting that the U.S. and its coalition partners did indeed target a building, a command-and-control facility, because it contains capabilities to exercise what's called command and control.

This is a building of Gadhafi headquarters in Tripoli. Our Nic Robertson was on the scene and you saw that earlier.

General Kimmitt is with us right now.

From the U.S. military's perspective, if they want to decapitate the command and control, the leadership, of the Libyan military right now, what's wrong with going after the commander, namely Gadhafi?

KIMMITT: Well, you've actually said two different -- two different missions. One is the command-and-control targets and the other are the leadership targets. I think at this point the Pentagon has said they've not been given the authority to go after leadership targets. That at this point they're focusing on the command-and-control targets.

It may be a couple of days from now a distinction without a difference but as military has said for any number of reasons, Moammar Gadhafi is not one of their targets. It would seem that the reason they went after this compound was because it was command and control center, not because Moammar Gadhafi was there.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, how risky is it for any of these Arab League countries to join in this coalition military operation from their own domestic political ramifications? In other words, if the UAE or Qatar or Jordan or some of the other countries got involved, would they have a problem domestically joining the U.S., for example, and going after Gadhafi's targets in Libya?

AJAMI: Well, that's a fundamentally good question, Wolf. Now let's take a look at some members of this so-called Arab League. Now some of them have their own problems, don't they? I mean if you are in Yemen, you're not really worried about Libya. You're worried about Yemen.

If you're in Bahrain, you have problems of legitimacy of your own. If you're in Syria, you're autocratic dictatorial regime that sympathizes in many ways with a tyrant in Tripoli. If you're in Algeria, again you have your own problems.

So these are very, very flawed regimes themselves. As they are pondering this fight in Libya, they are -- they are in a way -- you have all kind of conflicting emotions and we should not exaggerate, by the way, the level of support for Moammar Gadhafi in that so-called fabled, famous Arab streets.

I mean this is man who has never really had many friends. He has antagonized the Palestinians, he has antagonized the Shia in Lebanon by killing -- kidnapping and killing their leader, Imam Musa Sadr, some 30 years ago or so. He tried to kill then-crown prince now King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He's been a -- he's been really a brigand in many ways. And remember he gave up on the Arab world. He said he was no longer an Arab. He gave himself the title of king of the kings of Africa. He headed to the African world.

We should not grant him more credit than he deserves and these regimes, every one of them, they should be held to account. Are they willing to help the Libyan people in their hour of need or are they just willing to second-guess.

BLITZER: Fouad, stand by. General Kimmitt, stand by as well.

Peter Bergen is coming up next. He's getting ready to compare what's happening in Libya right now to what happened in Iraq eight years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was exactly to the day, eight years, when President George W. Bush announced eight years ago yesterday "Operation Iraq Freedom." Yesterday President Obama announced "Operation Odyssey Dawn."

Peter Bergen, our national security analyst, is here. He's the author of the best-selling book, "The Longest War."

Some people are comparing what's going on in Libya right now, basically designed when all is said, to get rid of Gadhafi, as compared to what happened eight years ago in Iraq, basic mission to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, one obviously enormous difference is that eight years ago 150,000 American soldiers were deploying into Iraq for "Operation Iraqi Freedom." So I mean that's off the table as far as the president is concerned.

And I think there are other differences, Wolf. For a start, the United Nations -- the resolution is very unambiguous. It not only allows for a no-fly zone but it says any means necessary allowed to protect Libyan civilians.

That's a very unusual thing for the United Nations. It was similar to what George H.W. Bush secured during the first Gulf War when they -- getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Secondly of course even though the Arab League has been dithering and saying one thing on that publicly and another thing privately, we do have Arab support. And as Fouad Ajami was saying earlier, you know Gadhafi has no -- there is no Arab street who -- in favor of Gadhafi. He's burned every bridge that he's crossed. There's no plan B for him.

He can't retire to Saudi Arabia as other murderous dictators, for instance, like Idi Amin, did in the '70s. So, you know, the reason --

BLITZER: So he has no exit strategy -- BERGEN: He has no exit strategy, but also, you know, we're not going to see -- you know go back to the Iraq war. There were hundreds of thousands of people protesting in places like Jakarta, Indonesia, before the war. There were hundreds of thousands of people protesting in London.

You know this is armed with international support. We won't see these kinds of -- no one is going to be protesting about Gadhafi and the fact that there is a U.N. plan in place essentially to -- at the end of the day get rid of him.

BLITZER: So this -- so from your perspective, and you've written this excellent article at CNN.com, it's a whole different situation today as opposed to eight years ago.

BERGEN: Completely. I mean there's some superficial similarities between Gadhafi and Saddam. They treated their own civilians with -- you know, with contempt. They've got terrible sons and heirs, you know, both pursued weapons of mass destruction with relatively little degree of success.

But, you know, the international community response to this is very different to what we had in the Iraq war where the coalition involved just the British and a few other nations. Here we've got multiple European nations, and including some Arab nations, Qatar, maybe Jordan down the road, maybe UAE down the road.

BLITZER: So there's a lot of differences. Good article on CNN.com, Peter. Thanks for coming in.

BERGEN: All right, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on the breaking news, what's going on right now, including diplomacy. Is there any diplomacy under way right now?

Plus we're going inside Libya for some live reports. Stay with us. You're watching this special coverage right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's joining us from Paris right now where she's been covering Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's efforts to shape U.S. policy on Libya.

And Jill, we know the secretary has been very actively involved.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she has, Wolf. And you know in the beginning, I think according to the people we've been speaking to in the administration, she was pretty careful, as many people were, not to go too fast to take it slowly. There was a lot of criticism for that.

But once the Arab League came on-board and they wanted the no-fly zone, and once the world began to see the attacks, the vicious attacks that Moammar Gadhafi was carrying out, that began to sway them and so we are told she joined with Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador, and they were pushing for the broadest possible resolution from the U.N., and also for that international approach to it.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt that the women, at least as far as I can tell, were much more assertive -- the top women in the Obama administration -- in pushing for this strategy than a lot of the men. Is that what you're hearing as well, Jill?

DOUGHERTY: Well, yes. But you know, I'm not too sure that it breaks down to men and women. Technically that's the case. But also, you know, the military really were trying to drive home the fact that they -- this is a pretty serious operation.

It could go wrong, and so the military had more of a reluctance. You saw that certainly from Secretary Gates. But it is fair to say that the women were pushing for action.

BLITZER: Yes, not just Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton but Samantha Power at the NSC, the National Security Council as well.

DOUGHERTY: Correct.

BLITZER: Jill, thanks very much.