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THE SITUATION ROOM

Libya War

Aired March 20, 2011 - 21:00   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 Tripoli, striking out at Moammar Gadhafi's command and control. Coalition forces target a key compound belonging to the Libyan leader.

(VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Antiaircraft fire lights up the skies over Tripoli, but allied warplanes have already wiped out much of Libya's air defenses.

Strong and successful -- that's how the U.S. defense secretary describes the operation so far. But he also sounds a warning.

(VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In Benghazi, the rebels celebrate as the Libyan military calls for an immediate cease-fire. 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 on CNN networks around the world. This is a CNN special: "Libya War."

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

Here's what we know now: A senior official with coalition forces tells CNN allies targeted a building in Moammar Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli because it was connected to the command and control of Libyan troops. There's no indication Colonel Gadhafi was inside the building.

Strikes on the North African nation are to continue despite calls by the Libyan government for a stop to the fighting. Allies don't trust Gadhafi's forces will honor a cease-fire.

On Sunday, some of those troops took a pounding in eastern Libya. This is what remains of a Libyan military convoy after a coalition air strike. The offensive is cause for celebration for rebels trying to drive Gadhafi from power. But the Libyan leader has promised this will be a long, long war.

Let's bring in our reporters on the ground in Libya right now, Nic Robertson is joining us in Tripoli, Arwa Damon is in Benghazi.

Nic, let's start with you. Set the scene for us. These are critical hours right now -- this attack on this compound where Gadhafi had one of his headquarters in Tripoli. What happened?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we were taken by government officials to a compound about a mile and a half away from where we are now, a compound -- (INAUDIBLE) compound. It's used by Moammar Gadhafi and many of his soldiers and soldiers' families, we are told. It is a heavily secured compound close to the center of Tripoli.

We were taken to a building there, a large concrete building that had been heavily damaged by what appeared and what we were told were two cruise missiles that were fired into that building. The building's roof had had collapsed. The building's roof had collapsed and there appeared to be two holes in it. This is a heavy concrete building. There was rubble strewn over the adjacent area.

We looked into some of the rooms there, they were empty mostly, apart from some small amounts of furniture. There was no apparent sort of cables or antennas or figure like that around the building. We were told -- I've been told by a number of journalists subsequently -- this is a building that they've been in before, before they've been taken to see Moammar Gadhafi in a tent about 50 yards away.

So, this is sort of a VIP protocol building used by guests, we were told in the last few days. Moammar Gadhafi had used the building for the Chinese ambassador, the Russian ambassador, and the Indian ambassador when they'd come to meet him in the days before the Security Council vote was taken.

So, this is a significant government building inside that compound. However, we were told there were no casualties when the missile struck it tonight about 10:00 p.m. this evening, local time, when the building was hit, Wolf.

BLITZER: And this is new video that you and your crew just fed in to CNN, Nic, that we're showing our viewers. I know Gadhafi almost always like to sleep in a tent, although I suspect these days he's not sleeping in any tent in Libya right now.

Was there any evidence of casualties in this air strike on this compound where the Libyan authorities took you, Nic?

ROBERTSON: None that we can see. We were told that there were no casualties in the building and there was no evidence of it that we could see at all. The only thing in the compound that pointed to sort of medical facilities in that compound area that we saw was an ambulance that was perhaps 200 yards away, very clean, very new- looking ambulance with a couple of ambulance workers next to it. But it was sitting idle just parked next to a building. It seemed to be there in case there was a need of casualties rather than an ambulance that had been used in any kind of medical evacuation in the recent moments.

So, certainly, there was no indication that we could see of torn clothing, of lost shoes, or all the other sorts of things one might see when there have been casualties in a building. Not so that I that we could definitely say there weren't any, but no indications. And again, government officials saying there were no casualties in that building, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because I ask the question -- there have been some suggestions by U.S. officials that are concerned that Gadhafi is bringing in civilians, Libyan civilians, men and women, children, into some of these sensitive compounds to be used in effect as human shields, hoping that the allies, the U.S., the French, the British, the others, wouldn't go ahead and attack these buildings even if they are sensitive military buildings, knowing that in the process, they would kill a lot of innocent civilians.

Have you seen evidence personally, Nic, of human shields at some of these facilities?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, state television here has been broadcasting pictures over the last night and the night before of people gathered around buildings, the international airport here in Tripoli, the international airport in Gadhafi's home city, and also in this compound, an area perhaps about 150 yards away from where this missile struck.

We were standing last night in fact with a large group of people, about 1,000 pro-Gadhafi supporters standing around what is now a museum, but it is the building where we saw Moammar Gadhafi give a speech about two weeks ago. The building that was the target of a 1986 U.S. bombing strike on Libya in retaliation for killing U.S. servicemen in a disco in Berlin by Libyan agents. That building and all the people gathered around it was put out live on state television, live on state television again tonight as well. And indeed on the screen, it called the people who were gathered around there, they called them "protectors."

This was -- this was a clear effort by the Libyan leadership to bring civilians in -- men, women and children we saw last night. Not too many women and children tonight, all men -- but to bring them in and put them around government buildings.

The people we saw last night were free to come and go. They were pouring in. Last night, again, there were a lot of people gathered outside of this large, secure palace compound area which is perhaps at least a couple of square miles in size. Hundreds of cars parked outside, people turning up to come in and show their loyalty to the leader.

So, very much so the Libyan leadership has chosen a number of locations where people have been invited in. I think what is important to remember here as well, that Moammar Gadhafi, this palace compound area, six weeks ago, no average or normal Libyan would be allowed in this palace compound area. It was a sealed-off area, high, tight security, somewhere you drove by that you never imagined you could go in. Now, Libyans are being invited in there and being put on state television, shown protecting these buildings.

So, the strike today coming within perhaps 150 yards of what was a large gathering yesterday, a small gathering after the strike today. We're not sure if there was a gathering before the strike tonight, but certainly, this is what we've seen the leadership here doing and putting it on television for everyone to see, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're seeing some remnants, some of what remains of some of those Tomahawk cruise missiles. Nic, stand by. We'll come back to you.

I want to go to Benghazi right now, that's where the rebels are headquartered. CNN's Arwa Damon is standing by.

What a difference 48 hours makes, Arwa. Forty-eight hours ago, they were depressed, they were disappointed. They thought they were potentially on the verge of being defeated by Gadhafi's forces. But now, they sense the tide has turned.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it most certainly has. It's not even 48 hours ago that all of this took place.

Yesterday morning, we saw the beginning of the assault, the battle for Benghazi when Gadhafi's forces began entering the city from the southern part. They were according to what we saw, and according to what eyewitnesses were telling us, bombarded civilian areas. One man told us that he saw Gadhafi's forces manning their heavy machine guns and firing them indiscriminately into buildings laughing the entire time. People at that point were so desperately pleading for this no- fly zone to be implemented right away for air strikes to be carried out.

We did yesterday, eventually, see the opposition manage to push out the pro-Gadhafi elements, but there were great fears they would try to launch another attack. What we saw in the early hours of the morning was an air assault, air strikes, on that same military unit that had attack Benghazi earlier.

We went out to the scene of that strike. We saw debris strewn around for miles, burnt vehicles ranging from armored personnel carriers to tanks that had had their turrets blown off. We saw a number of charred bodies on the scene as well.

Residents of Benghazi streaming there themselves to survey the damage and all of them with one simple message of thank you. They truly believe they have been saved from a massacre. If you look at casualty numbers from the assault by Gadhafi's forces that took place here on Saturday, hospital officials are telling us that 95 people had died.

So, from the opposition here, those air strikes most certainly do appear to mean salvation, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to check back with you, Arwa. I specifically want to know if in fact any arms are coming in to re-arm these rebels. They're desperate for more weapons right now. But stand by, Arwa.

Fouad Ajami is with us as well, professor of Middle East studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

If, in fact, these rebels and I know it's a disparate group. We talk about the rebels as if they're one, but there are various elements that are aligned against Gadhafi. Isn't that right?

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Well, think there are all kinds of people in this broad coalition against Gadhafi. As we said before, there are some elements, his former minister of interior, his former minister of justice. But fundamentally I really think if we just -- we may be trying to be too precise. We may be in a way trying to somehow or another find some adjectives for these people that just don't really don't apply.

These are just ordinary Libyans who finally decided to rise against this man. And this Libyan National Council, we have communication with them. I mean, they've told us in every way they can, they want a secular democratic Libya and they know the obstacles against them.

But, you know, we still can do a lot to help them. We still can recognize them. It's something that Washington is yet to do, to grant them diplomatic recognition.

If we grant them diplomatic recognition, Wolf, here's something else we can give them which will really help alter the shape of this confrontation. There are $30 billion which the U.S. treasury has in frozen Libyan assets. Use those $30 billion into the fight, you designate the Libyan National Council of Benghazi as legitimate government, the landscape looks very different.

BLITZER: It certainly does. So, what I hear you saying, Fouad, is that these rebels in Libya, average folks, some leaders, very much like the rebels in Tunisia that took over, got rid of the dictator there, or those in Egypt who got rid of Mubarak. Is this a similar situation in Libya unfolding right now as to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt?

AJAMI: While allowing for slightly, if you will, both Tunisia and Egypt, with no disrespect meant to Libya, those are much more evolved societies. There is broader middle class. There is much higher level of education.

But, you know, the Libyans have told us who they are. I mean, if we go back and listen to what they've said, if we look at the people who have been meeting with our diplomats, it's just a broad civic opposition.

Now, there is, of course, an element of regionalism to it only in the sense that in Cyrenaica where Benghazi is, that you have the ruler in Tripoli, you have the opposition in Benghazi, but fundamentally these are just decent people trying to have -- to give themselves a break.

They know -- they know their situation. They've said about themselves that they are the poorest people in the neighborhood in the richest country, because this man and his children and his retainers have stolen the promise of Libya and the treasure of Libya and these people just want to give themselves a chance and they waited on the international community.

And the help came in the nick of time. Call it a stay of execution. Call it a rescue mission. I mean, it was at the last minute that the Obama administration decided to go into this fight and reluctantly so.

BLITZER: Libya is a major oil exporting country as we know. They've taken billions and billions of dollars every year, thanks to their oil.

Fouad is going to stay with us. Ed Henry is traveling with the president of the United States. We'll check in with him.

We're going to go back to Tripoli. Nic Robertson is there with the breaking news.

Much more of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

VICE ADM. WILLIAM GORTNEY, U.S. NAVY CENTRAL COMMAND: At this particular point, I can guarantee that he's not on a targeting list. If he happens to be in a place, if he's inspecting a surface-to-air missile site, we don't have any idea that he's there or not --

REPORTER: This is his residence.

GORTNEY: Oh, yes. But, no, we're not targeting his residence this time. We're there to set the conditions and enforce the United Nations Security Council resolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Vice admiral William Gortney briefing reporters at the Pentagon earlier.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry, who's traveling with President Obama in Rio de Janeiro right now.

Ed, behind the scenes, what are White House officials saying about this notion of directly targeting Gadhafi?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they're saying is that they're not directly targeting him or his compound but they adhering to the U.N. Security Council resolution that laid out that they could target any of Gadhafi's air defense missiles and capabilities in order to protect civilians in Libya, as well as institute this no-fly zone. And so, they say they are absolutely complying with that resolution.

And on that score, the president today launched a ferocious, behind- the-scenes lobbying campaign, we're told by official. He personally called King Abdullah of Jordan to try to shore up Arab support for this mission. Other administration officials, we're told, reached out to the Arab League. Those concerns you've been mentioning that they feel that maybe this is going far afield of that original U.N. mandate.

A senior official is telling me that they assured the Arab League that this is directly targeted and exactly what the U.N. wanted, which is making sure that civilians are protected.

Now, also some new information tonight for the first time, the White House national security advisor, Tom Donilon, is saying that the president is planning for the U.S. to only have a lead role in the allied bombing campaign for days, not weeks and that basically then enforcing the no-fly zone would be taken over by NATO. Now, that's significant because another senior U.S. official told me privately that the bombing campaign is ongoing in his words -- essentially, that it could intensify in the hours ahead.

So, what we could see is the U.S. sort of pour it on in the hours ahead, and then hand it off to NATO. So, that's something certainly to keep an eye on.

Finally, White House aides say the president has been personally, deeply involved in the planning, the execution of this. He's been briefed several times today. And we're told, tomorrow morning, he's beginning his day right here in Rio de Janeiro before moving on to Chile with a secure conference call with Secretary of State Clinton, various other officials.

They are clearly trying to project the image that this is a commander- in-chief that is on top of this situation, even from far away here in Latin America. He's gotten some criticism for continuing with this trip. But they're saying with a secure communications he has, he is staying on top of it, Wolf.

BLITZER: How do they square this, Ed? That the U.N. Security Council resolution passed the other day, 1973, specifically only talks about protecting civilians in Libya. But for a few weeks now the president, secretary of state have said the U.S. goal is to get rid of Gadhafi, Gadhafi must go. We keep hearing that from the president, from the secretary of state.

How do they explain that difference?

HENRY: It's a difficult balance, you're absolutely right. They've got two answers, which is one, that the U.N. Security Council resolution said enforce the no-fly zone but also use all means necessary to protect those civilians. That's why you have the bombing campaign.

But, very clearly the U.N. resolution stops short of saying regime change. It did not say you could directly take out Moammar Gadhafi.

And so, what they're saying from the president from on down is that basically it's up to the Libyan people to actually take him out.

Now, obviously, if, in the course of the bombing campaign, Gadhafi and some of his other senior officials are wounded or taken out, that obviously is something that could play out. We have to see how all of that happens. But they insist that they are not targeting him, they are not targeting his compound, that they are targeting instead his air defense capabilities, et cetera, to enforce the U.N. mandate, which is again to get that no-fly zone in. In order to do that, you got to target the air defenses, number one. And number two, protect the civilians. Use all those means necessary.

So, it's a difficult balance but I can tell you that Tom Donilon, the national security advisor, candidly admitted tonight that, at the end of all this bombing campaign, et cetera, you still could have Gadhafi in power. That's not something the administration wants, but they do not have a mandate to directly take him out right now, Wolf. So, it might be a proposition they have to live with.

BLITZER: We'll see how that unfolds. Ed Henry's traveling with the president -- we'll check back with you. Thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper now with retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He's here in Washington. And Johns Hopkins University professor, Fouad Ajami -- he's in New York.

It looks like this is straight out of some sort of military doctrine, military book, how to go ahead and enforce a no-fly zone. The first thing is destroy the air defense system, the radar capabilities. You take out anything that could endanger U.S. or coalition planes.

GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER ASST. SECY. OF STATE: That's exactly right. That's what we've seen. As you have heard the secretary of defense, he says that up to this point the response has been strong and it's been effective. And it looks like for the next phase, the actual enforcement of the no-fly zone, that with the exception of the shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles, that there won't be a lot of threat to our forces. They'll still -- they'll still be --

BLITZER: Those finger or those shoulder-fired missiles -- they are pretty effective and they're pretty hard to find if somebody's walking around with them. You can put them in the trunk of a car.

KIMMITT: No, I'm not meaning to minimize it, but the real big guns out there, the SA-5s, the SA-2s -- those seem to have taken out. So, now, there are different techniques, tactics and procedures used by our pilots to avoid the SA-14s, the SA-7s.

But they're a little more comfortable having to go against a short- range air defense threat than the long-range air defense threat that they were facing two days ago.

BLITZER: Fouad Ajami, are you under any illusion at all that the U.S. and its coalition partners right now are going to let when all the dust settles Gadhafi stay in power?

AJAMI: Well, you know, Wolf, I really don't know. Wars have all kinds of consequences, intended ones, unintended ones. And we enter the fog of war, we don't know what the outcome is.

Again, you yourself talked about Gulf War I. In Gulf War I in 1991, we let -- we let Saddam off the hook and we trusted his faith to the Iraqi people. Remember, George Herbert Walker Bush saying, in fact, that it will be up to the Iraqi people to take care of him.

Well, he survived. Not only did he survive, he survived 12 years, until George W. Bush came after him directly and then he ran for his bunker and we had to flush him out several months later.

I don't know -- I don't think any of the people involved in this war know the outcome. Gadhafi doesn't know the outcome. He entered this war and now, he will see what he will see. He will witness what he will witness.

And I think for President Obama, this is a war he never wanted. He didn't want it. He didn't believe in it. He thought it wouldn't work.

He kept talking about organic revolutions -- these revolutions in the Arab world must be authentic to the Arab world. He believed we would sully these revolutions if we intervened. But once Gadhafi was at the gates of Benghazi -- in fact, this was the choice for President Obama.

Did President Obama want to have a Srebrenica on his conscience and his reputation as Bill Clinton did? Did he want a Rwanda on his conscience? And many in Rwanda admit he didn't want to -- and he entered this battle in a very, very reluctant way.

BLITZER: He certainly did but he has now entered the battle. And now, as we say, he is all-in.

Nic Robertson is in Tripoli.

I want to go back to you, Nic. And I got to tell you, a lot of our viewers -- they are e-mailing me. They are tweeting me.

They're thanking you for what you're doing. They deeply appreciate the courage that you have, you and your team there, in Tripoli in the face of air assaults. We've seen the skies over Tripoli as we say illuminated right now.

How dangerous is it? We want you to be obviously very, very careful -- but how dangerous is it for a reporter in Tripoli right now?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, I think perhaps the biggest danger that people face here is that if there is a strike where there are civilian casualties, and we haven't seen that yet, and the government has said that's happened but they've offered no evidence that this -- that the population here, some of them may get very angry and some of them are very well-armed, and I think that that could be the biggest danger to us. That the government official here that appear nominally in control or in charge of us at times do not -- certainly do not control the atmospherics of the crowd around us at times.

The crowds can be very, very exuberant. And I think, you know, for all the journalists here, not just for the CNN team, the concern is that at some moment, something could escalate, passions on the streets here, and that could turn against us. I do believe -- and I think we all do believe here -- that the leadership of the regime wants international reporters here, as we saw with Saddam Hussein during Iraq, because they want to get their message out to the world. This regime feels incredibly isolated now.

Almost every day, government officials tell us we want international monitors here, we want international monitors here. Every day they rush some government official for a quick press conference just a few lines, and it always seems as if it's something that they could have made in a phone call to their diplomats in Washington or London or wherever. But they don't have those diplomats here anymore.

So, this is a regime I think that at the moment wants to have journalists around and sees a value in having them because there is a message they want to get out, diplomatic connection or whatever they want to show, if it's a smashed compound this evening. So, I don't think journalists feel a threat from the regime.

But as Fouad Ajami says there, when you enter a war, there can be unforeseen events. And I think all of us have of our mind that there can be unforeseen events that the government can't predict, the people on the streets here can't predict it, and we have to keep those at the back of our minds here very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson was one of our journalists in Baghdad exactly 20 years ago when that First Gulf War started. And as Bernie Shaw said at the time, the skies over Baghdad had been illuminated and he's one courageous journalist.

I should know the answer to this -- but I don't, so help me, Nic. Those four "New York Times" journalists who were taken by Gadhafi's forces, what's their status right now? Because the son of Moammar Gadhafi said they would be released. Have they been released?

ROBERTSON: Well, Wolf, that was several days ago and that was Saif Gadhafi who responded to a question from ABC's Christiane Amanpour and he said several days ago that they would be released.

And I think we've all seen that there's been no other information about them in the public domain, and I do believe that's the way -- that I think not discussing this at the moment is perhaps the way that it is generally felt that best suits their situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: I applaud all of the journalists covering this war in Tripoli, in Benghazi, every place in between. These are very, very courageous men and women.

We're going to check in with one of our other courageous journalists, Arwa Damon in Benghazi. That's coming up. Stand by for that.

Nic, thanks very much.

We'll also go to London so see what the British are now doing. CNN's Matthew Chance is standing by there. More of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They're young. They're enthusiastic. They don't have a whole lot of weapons, though, and they're not really trained militarily.

We're talking about the Libyan opposition but they are delighted, they're thrilled that the U.S., the French, the British, others have come to their aid right now in their war against Moammar Gadhafi.

Let's go to Benghazi. That's where the rebels are headquartered. It's the second largest city in Libya. Arwa Damon is on the scene.

Arwa, is there a sense that they're getting some of the weapons, the spare parts, the arms that they need? Do they have any real capability of moving beyond Benghazi toward the west and Tripoli?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they do believe that they have that capability now that they do have this international aid. Up until those air strikes began, up until the no-fly zone was established, we basically saw Gadhafi's troops not at the outskirts of Benghazi but in Benghazi itself.

The opposition did once managed to drive them out but there was absolutely no illusion that they were going to be able to sustain that kind of a battle for a very long time. The weapons that they have are mostly ones that they have managed to get their hands on, that were left behind at various military bases that Gadhafi once used to control.

We've asked as to whether or not they've received any weapons from other nations. The opposition firmly denying that that is not the case, be it that another government is shipping weapons here or that individuals are privately purchasing weapons and then bringing them in.

But we have heard unconfirmed reports that that is in fact the case. What you do see the opposition doing is cobbling these bits and pieces that they have managed to get their hands on together and basically creating their own form of makeshift weaponry.

Some of these items that they're using, Wolf, we're told actually date back to World War II. So it just gives you an idea of how ancient some of these weapons are. But at the end of the day, as they keep telling us, they are going to take this fight for as long and as far as they can with the means that they have.

But now that they do have this international aid, now that they do have those fighter jets that are going to help take out Gadhafi's position when he does end up attacking the civilian population, they most certainly believe that they can take this fight all the way to Tripoli -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, another one of our courageous journalists. And all of us our viewers remember the excellent work, the very courage work she's done in Iraq over all of these years.

Arwa, please be careful in Benghazi right now.

I want to go to London, CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is standing by. The British deeply involved in this, taking a leadership role.

Here's the question. Do they have -- does the government of the prime minister have the strong support of the public in Britain?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not clear. There haven't been any public opinion polls but I mean I've taken some soundings of various, you know, Londoners that I've been in contact with throughout the course of the past 24 hours or so.

And it doesn't seem there's a great deal of support for this. I mean yes, the support for the idea of protecting civilians in eastern Libya, nobody in this country particularly wants to see revenge attacks being wrought by Colonel Gadhafi on innocent civilians in eastern Libya.

But there is a lot of reticence in Britain about the need for Britain to be involved in yet another war in the Middle East. There's a lot of concern about whether the country can afford it. We're going through great austerity in this country at the moment. There are budget cutbacks, particularly in the -- in the military budget as well.

And so these are issues that are playing on the minds of many Britons tonight as they see these news reports of more British armed forces in combat situations again launching tomahawk missiles, according to the Ministry of Defense, again for the second night running against various military installations in Libya -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it seems to me -- and Matthew, correct me if I'm wrong -- that David Cameron, the prime minister, has been much more enthusiastic about a major military operation in Libya than President Obama himself was.

CHANCE: Yes. He certainly seems to be very keen to be in the front of this, at least politically, along with the French, of course. They've very much taken, the French and British, the lead in this in terms of the politics of it.

I think it's not clear, though, how much real military contributions they're making. Of course there are British and French assets at play here but the statistic that was interesting from the last -- the previous night's bombing, the first night's bombing, there were I think 124 tomahawk cruise missiles that were launched against various targets inside Libya, 122 of them were from the United States. Just two launched from Britain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Matthew, we'll stay in close touch with you. Thanks very much.

We're going to check in with all of our correspondents and our analysts and what's going on. We're also going to check in on what's going on another huge story unfolding, Japan. There's new radiation showing up in food and water in the aftermath of the tsunami. The earthquake. Much more of our coverage from Japan. We'll have a live report -- and from Libya -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have much more on the breaking news on the war in Libya. But I want to continue to follow another huge story around the world. What's going on in Japan right now.

CNN's Stan Grant is in Tokyo. He's joining us.

Stan, it's Monday morning in Japan right now and you're getting new information on the nuclear potential for a disaster unfolding. What is the latest you're getting?

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it's been an almighty fight to try to bring this under control. It's actually a public holiday here in Japan today, a normally scheduled one.

And for the first time you get a sense that people are starting to breathe out a little bit, unrelenting bad news and of course this threat of nuclear disaster hanging over the country. They fought long and hard to bring this under control putting fire and pumping water into the reactors to try to cool them down.

The key has always been reconnecting the electricity. We understand now that power's been reconnected to four out of the six reactors, five and six, and now one and two as well. They're trying to get the cooling systems working again. That is going to be crucial.

As you recall, it was a power outage that started this chain reaction that we've seen of one disaster after another at that nuclear plant. They can get the power properly working, get those cooling systems working again properly, they can really start to bring the heat down and ultimately be able to shut these reactors down safely -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What's the latest on the food and water? Reports that there's already been some contamination. What do we know about that?

GRANT: Yes, absolutely. You know there are two key words that ring alarm bells in this -- radiation and now contamination. Those words themselves, you can almost say, have become radioactive. People responding with fear, they simply don't understand it, they don't know what it means, all they do is hear those words and fear the worst.

Now there is contamination, radioactive material being found in spinach and also milk that is produced locally in the vicinity near that plant. Now sales of those products have been stopped. Also water at a relief center also has been found to contain radioactive elements. People there are being warned not to drink that water.

The government throughout has maintained the radiation levels and trace elements being found in other material are not enough to cause harm. In fact, I spoke to the chief cabinet secretary yesterday and put this directly to him, would he drink it? Would he eat it? He said of course he would.

But it's another thing to try to convince people who are so fearful and simply don't trust the information that they've been getting -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Stan Grant is in Tokyo for us. We'll continue to watch what's happening in Japan. Thanks so much to you.

Much more of the coverage of the war in Libya. There are new developments unfolding right now. We'll update you when we come back.

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BLITZER: Let's continue our conversation with retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He's here in Washington. And Johns Hopkins University professor, Fouad Ajami. He's in New York.

General Kimmitt, we're hearing from White House officials, from Pentagon officials that later this week, within days, the U.S. hands over the command of this operation to someone else. Who is the someone else?

KIMMITT: Well, obviously the first choice would be NATO. The problem is, if they want to non-American, we have an American commander of the NATO military forces right now, Admiral James Stavridis.

It's unlikely that it would be handed over to the EU, the European Union military forces, that could be an option but highly unlikely. This would be the first example of them using these forces.

I'm not really certain who or more importantly what command structure had they would be handing it over to that somehow wouldn't have an American in a very senior high place.

BLITZER: Is this really politically that important, Fouad Ajami, that the United States not be seen as effective being in charge?

AJAMI: Absolutely not. I think the United States has been, if you will, involved in all these missions of rescue.

Let's remember one thing. In 20 years, Wolf, in 20 years, this is the sixth mission of rescue in the Islamic world for a Muslim population that America has undertaken. Let's go over them. Kuwait, 1991, Bosnia, 1995, Kosovo, 1999. The Afghans from the tyranny of the Taliban in 2001. The Iraqis in 2003 and now the Libyans from the tyranny and the murderous regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

It is the American destiny, this is our mission in the world. We may not like it, we may not want to pay the price, we may have a hard time finding to whom do we hand over? But this is -- in many ways, this has been the American mission and the American destiny in the world.

BLITZER: Well, how do you explain, Fouad, then if the United States has intervened six times to help Muslims, as you point out correctly, over the past 20 years, there's so much anger toward the United States in so many Muslim and Arab countries?

AJAMI: Well, there is hypocrisy in that broad swath of the world aplenty. I mean you see people saying they hate America and they want to send their kids to Johns Hopkins and to Princeton. You see people pretending -- professing anti-Americanism and yet when the chips are down and when people are in trouble, they don't call the Arab League, they call General Kimmitt, they call the United States Air Force.

They call upon America because they understand that the American mission in the world is mercy. And it is not because people have oil that we go covet their oil. No one cares about Gadhafi's oil. Libya will have to sell its oil one way or another.

It's really about this need for American protection in the world. People need American protection and they complain about the protector. It's the nature of the world in which we live.

BLITZER: But speaking of oil, and we've discussed this, General Kimmitt. I'm concerned based on what I'm hearing from U.S. officials that there is deep nervousness that Gadhafi, if he's going down, will start doing what Saddam Hussein did in Kuwait and start blowing up his oil fields and there would be an environmental and economic disaster in the Mediterranean.

KIMMITT: And certainly, whoever takes over after Gadhafi takes over the country of Libya. That would be the first order of business to put those fires out. I think it's a real concern. It is not something that has been discussed as part of the U.N. Security Council resolution. We can only hope that the planners are anticipating that as an option and they've got some contingency plans ready to handle that.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation. They're watching CNN all over the world right now in 240 countries and territories, including in Libya. We'll ask our guests to speak to the Libyan people right after this.

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BLITZER: We're back with retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and Professor Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University.

Fouad, we're being watched all over the world right now including in Libya. Let me put you on the spot. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, a graduate, has a PhD from the London School of Economics. He might be watching us right now.

If you could have a conversation with him briefly, what would you say?

AJAMI: Well, (INAUDIBLE) Gadhafi is a disgrace. He's a disgrace to his PhD. He's a disgrace to this mission that he gave himself that he was an emissary of this barbarous regime to the West. And if you compare Saif al-Islam wagging his finger at his people, wagging his finger at his fellow Libyan, and you compare him with the Libyans who have written to us, who have spoken to us, we have written poems about the dawn of freedom coming to them, I think there is something of a gap.

You can see the gap between the house of Gadhafi, murderers, exploiters, brigands, thieves. They've stolen the money of the Libyan people. And these very simply, decent, dignified Libyans trying to create a new Libya. I think the days of the house of Gadhafi are near.

BLITZER: The president of that university, the London School of Economics, he had to resign because of that PhD that Saif al-Islam Gadhafi got, is that right?

AJAMI: Absolutely. And remember, since you're a Johns Hopkins person, he once made a bid, if you will, to come Johns Hopkins ways and he was not -- he was not accepted. No road was given him that way.

BLITZER: Full disclosure, I'm a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

AJAMI: Yes.

BLITZER: And Dr. Fouad Ajami was my professor of Middle East studies.

AJAMI: Thank you.

BLITZER: General Kimmitt -- I'm going to put you on the spot as well. Talk to your military counterparts, if you will, in Tripoli right now and give them a message from your heart.

KIMMITT: Well, I think it's very clear. You are following orders of an illegitimate leader who no longer has legitimacy. Further fighting is futile. All it does is kill more of your fellow citizens.

You've got to make a decision what your future will you be. Will it be as indictee in an international war crimes tribunal? Will it be as a Libyan pariah? Or do you want to be seen as Libyan patriots, somebody who is focused on upcoming, the future Libya.

It is time to put down your arms. It is time for your soldiers to stop fighting. It is time to let the politicians come up with a negotiated settlement.

BLITZER: You believe they'll do that?

KIMMITT: I hope they'll do that.

BLITZER: But do you believe they will?

KIMMITT: Professional military will.

BLITZER: What do you think, Fouad Ajami? Do you think that the top ranks of the Libyan military will break with Gadhafi?

AJAMI: Well, I think General Kimmitt knows the military vocation much better than I do. I think to the extent that there is a professional military in Libya, I think General Kimmitt is absolutely on the mark.

To the extent that the killing and the hooliganism is done by militias loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, bought by Moammar Gadhafi, and mercenaries, that's a different call.

BLITZER: The next few days will be critical or is this going to go on, Fouad, for weeks, maybe months, maybe years?

AJAMI: As someone said, a smart person said, it's hard to predict particularly the future. I think I just want to watch this. I don't know. I think -- I think there will be -- there will be many twists and turns to come.

BLITZER: I think you're right and hopefully you'll be with us throughout these twists and turns.

Fouad Ajami, thanks as usual. Mark Kimmitt, thanks to you as well.

That's all the time we have. I'll see you tomorrow in the SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Our Libya coverage continues right now with CNN's Don Lemon in the "CNN NEWSROOM."