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THE SITUATION ROOM

Goal of Libya Mission?; Gadhafi's Compound Hit by Missile

Aired March 21, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news. Anti-aircraft fire over Libya's capital has the U.S. and its allies step up the no-fly campaign. As Libya shows off the damage to Moammar Gadhafi's own compound, there are now questions about the Libyan leader's current whereabouts.

President Obama leaves little doubt about Gadhafi's future, saying he needs to go. But the allies don't have a mandate to kick Gadhafi out. And that's raising some questions about the endgame, one military spokesman saying the mission may have already peaked. Can the U.S. avoid getting bogged down in Libya?

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Anti-aircraft fire lighting up the skies over Libya's capital just a little while ago, the U.S. and a growing list of allies putting a tight lid on Libyan airspace, mounting dozens of sorties today to enforce and expand a no-fly zone. The latest air patrols were preceded by numerous missile strikes, including a hit on Moammar Gadhafi's personal compound in Tripoli, the Libyan leader's whereabouts right now unknown.

U.S. commanders say coalition forces are generally achieving their words, generally achieving their goals. But a lot of questions remain about the allied mission going forward.

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence. He's got some answers for us.

Chris, first of all, what do they think? How do they think the U.S. and its coalition partners are doing?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they think they're progressing, Wolf. But the real question here is, what sounds so simple, that to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians, is actually very complicated, and it may present some very difficult decisions for coalition commanders.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): U.S. commanders say, when American troops finish their fight in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi could still be standing. GEN. CARTER HAM, COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: Is that ideal? I don't think anyone would say that that is ideal. But I could envision that as a possible situation, at least for the current mission that I have.

LAWRENCE: The U.N. resolution authorizes the coalition to stop Gadhafi's forces from attacking civilians and allow humanitarian aid to get in. It does not include targeting Gadhafi, but leaves enough leeway for commanders to strike his compound, a sprawling place that contains air defense systems and housing.

(on camera): How did the bombing of his compound tie into the mission of protecting civilians?

HAM: Because that -- degrading that command-and-control facility would degrade the regime's ability to control its military forces in the attack of civilians.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): But the mission could get murky when it comes to opposition fighters, who are civilians, too. The rebels themselves now have some armored vehicles and heavy weapons.

HAM: Those entities and those parts of the opposition are, I would argue, are no longer covered under that protect civilian clause.

LAWRENCE: So what will the coalition do if the rebels go on the offensive and try to take back territory, if they become the danger to civilians?

HAM: So this will become a particular challenge for us should that eventuality occur.

LAWRENCE: It's not even clear how far the coalition will go to fight Gadhafi's forces. They have bombed infantry units, but say:

HAM: There is no intent to completely destroy the Libyan military forces.

LAWRENCE: For now, U.S. military leaders are focused on extending the no-fly zone to Benghazi and then eventually enforcing it over the western half of Libya.

HAM: That's about 1,000 kilometers. So it's a pretty wide area.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Now, there's no question that the U.S. wants to pull back and hand over responsibility to another command. The question is, who? A defense official told me that NATO could easily make the switch over with little disruption and little risk to pilots to keep flying. The problem is, some of the Arab countries have issues with flying under a NATO flag -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, do we have any precise time when this transition will take place? Is it days, weeks? What's the latest?

HAM: Well, if you believe the officials from the Pentagon all the way up to the administration, they're still saying days, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president said several days, although I'm hearing it could take longer than that.

All right, Chris -- Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And sounds of explosions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, that was anti-aircraft fire and attacks in Tripoli just a little while ago.

Let's go to Tripoli right now. Nic Robertson is on the scene for us, as he has been for weeks.

What's the latest as far as you can tell, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been pretty quiet for the last couple of hours. Before that, we had the explosions in the distance, followed by anti-aircraft gunfire, and a couple of hours before that, about 8:00 p.m. local time, just after it got dark, a couple more explosions, with heavy anti-aircraft gun tracer fire looping up into the sky.

Officials told us that somewhere in the port area of Tripoli was the target, and also just about 100 kilometers, 75 miles down the coast in the port of (INAUDIBLE) also the target. In the harbor here, there are Libyan naval vessels with radar equipment on them. Are they part of the air defense system? Were they the target? We don't know at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: On another related -- unrelated matter -- maybe it is related -- I want you to explain what you know about this suggestion, FOX News reporting that you, a Reuters crew, some other journalists were effectively used by Gadhafi as a human shield to prevent allied fighter planes from coming in and attacking a certain position. Explain what you know about this.

LAWRENCE: Wolf, this allegation is outrageous, and it's absolutely hypocritical.

When you come to somewhere like Libya, you expect lies and deceit from a dictatorship here. You don't expect it from the other journalists. Why do I say that? Because FOX News has said that they didn't send somebody on this trip last night because they said it was a -- quote, unquote -- "propaganda trip."

They sent a member of their team. He was non-editorial. He was non-technical, not normally a cameraman. He was given a camera by the team and told to come out and come on the bus with the 40 other journalists who were there who were free to get on the bus, free to get off the bus when they wanted, told us when he was on the bus that even he, this member of the FOX team, was surprised that the correspondent and the normal cameraman weren't coming out, that he was being sent, this isn't his normal job, that he was being sent.

So that's why I say what FOX is saying is outrageous and hypocritical. And the idea that we were some kind of human shields is nuts. I mean, if they had actually been there -- Steve Harrigan, the correspondent here, is somebody I have known for many years. I see him more times at breakfast than I see him out on trips with government officials here.

Other correspondents here who go out regularly say the same things, NBC, CBS. All the other news teams here go out, not on all the government trips -- we didn't go on another one yesterday, but we very, very rarely see the FOX News team out on the trips.

So, for them to say and call this -- to say they didn't go and for them to call this and say this was government propaganda to hold us there as human shields, when they didn't even leave the hotel, the correspondent didn't leave the hotel and go and see for himself, is ridiculous.

We were taken there. We went in through the security. We filmed the building. We were given 15, 20 minutes to do that, five minutes at Gadhafi's tent, and then we were taken out. And I was literally, physically pushed back on the bus when we left. That's how quickly the government officials wanted to get us out.

If I sound angry, it is because I am. As I say, I expect lies from the government here. I don't expect it from other journalists. And it's, frankly, incredibly disappointing to me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, did this FOX representative who went with you on this trip, did he have a camera?

ROBERTSON: He was given a camera by the cameraman and the correspondent who stayed in the hotel and didn't go out, a correspondent who very rarely leaves his hotel.

I don't know who he's talking to here to pick up and find out what the story is. When we go on these government trips, it is for a very simple reason. Because we don't want government officials to film it themselves, edit it themselves, and then hand it off to us. We want to go for ourselves.

We want to go and see, is it a command-and-control system? What are the telltale signs there that the government wouldn't let us see if they edited the tape? That's why we go, because we're news professionals, and we want to see it for ourselves.

As I say, I'm disappointed, shocked. I find this a very, very poor situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about Moammar Gadhafi right now and his son Saif al-Islam, for example? Have we seen them, heard from them? Have they disappeared? Are they in hiding someplace? What do we know? ROBERTSON: I was in a room with somebody here who received a call from Saif al-Islam not so long ago. And I would just add to that in the contempt of what I was saying here, I'm doing that because I'm making contacts here because I go out.

We're just moving the camera, Wolf, because we're seeing anti- aircraft gunfire in the sky, hearing it, tracer rounds coming up. Sounds like possibly another attack.

So, Wolf, this is the third time tonight we're seeing the skies over Tripoli illuminated by anti-aircraft gunfire from a number of different locations. We did hear an explosion before, but not (INAUDIBLE) heavy anti-aircraft gunfire, those red tracers snaking up into the sky as the gunners try and create an arc of fire across the sky that might intercept some incoming missiles.

We're also seeing big white flashes in the sky from some heavier anti-aircraft guns that are detonating high in the sky. This is the third time. Every two hours tonight since nightfall, there has been an attack and this heavy anti-aircraft gunfire. In the port of Tripoli earlier on, at least one attack. Some -- another attack sounded like it came from the presidential -- from Gadhafi's palace here. But, again, this anti-aircraft gunfire either (INAUDIBLE)

(GUNFIRE)

BLITZER: All right, let's just listen and watch this for a minute or so. We will just let it play out. All right. You can see live fire over Tripoli right now. It's not stopping.

It seems more prolonged, Nic, than earlier in the day. Did you hear a loud attack first, a thump, followed by this anti-aircraft fire?

ROBERTSON: That's what we have heard twice before this evening, Wolf, around 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. It's now midnight.

I didn't hear it because sometimes these thuds, the impacts are sort of in the distance. And perhaps because I was talking to you, I wasn't listening as closely to the -- to what the -- ambient noise as I normally do when I'm standing here.

But it seems to be that's why that gunfire started up. It seems to have eased off now. It seems that these gunners are getting more used to trying to intercept missiles and they're perhaps recognizing now that by the time they have heard the missiles, it's too late.

And what was interesting, when the missiles impacted at 8:00, it took these gunners here perhaps 30 seconds, maybe a minute before they could react. This time, they seemed to have been on their guns and at 10:00 p.m., when the missiles came in, they were on their guns quickly.

But they seem to be now getting into the routine of this happening. This is the third time, as I say, tonight and it's only midnight right now, Wolf. BLITZER: What it looks like to me, Nic, is that the allies, they either send a missile in or they send in a jet fighter overhead. They attack a target. And then the Libyans just sort of randomly start shooting their anti-aircraft weapons into the sky, not necessarily aiming at anything, but hoping to get lucky, if you will. Is that the sense you get as well?

ROBERTSON: That is.

And military people who know more about military things than I do tell me what they're trying to do is create what they call like an arc of fire through the sky. That's where they wave the weapon and you see those tracers move through the sky sideways, because they're trying to create an arc or a field of fire that would intercept something flying through, because they very likely wouldn't see a missile flying.

At night, if you're lucky, you will perhaps see a missile as it goes past you. You will see light coming from the rear engine on it. You may just see that, but they would have to be very, very lucky to be able to shoot down a missile, a cruise missile.

I was in Baghdad in 1991 with Peter Arnett and -- who was a correspondent and producer, Robert Wiener, and a cruise missile was shot down not far from the Al-Rasheed Hotel, where we were located. And it came down about 100 yards from where we were. Because it had been shot down, it didn't detonate and explode, but it did create a big enough force from the crash and the limited explosion that it blew the window in where we were and blew us across the room and onto the floor.

So they can be shot down by anti-aircraft gunfire, but it's got to be a lucky, lucky shot. And that was in daylight. And it would be very unlikely I would think for any of the gunners here, who don't seem to be as well-trained and sophisticated as the gunners in Baghdad, to shoot one of these missiles down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, a missile is pretty hard to shoot down. A jet fighter is pretty hard to shoot down as well, especially if it's higher up.

Do you have any sense at all, Nic, how far away this anti- aircraft fire was where from you are right now?

ROBERTSON: We're guessing perhaps about a mile-and-a-half, because we believe that this is gunfire coming from around that Moammar Gadhafi's palace complex area.

There are very few locations in the city that have these heavy weapon systems. They do have them mounted on the backs of trucks, so they can drive them around and move them, should they so desire. But this is the -- one of the only locations where we have seen such heavy weaponry. Perhaps down in the port would be another place and by the military airfield, where you would normally expect to see heavy anti- aircraft guns, the military airfield, the old U.S. Wheelus Air Force Base here close to the sea and east of the city, Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Nic, I want you to be very careful over there. We will stay in close touch with you. If you hear more of that anti-aircraft fire or missile attacks or whatever, we're going to come right back to you -- Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Tripoli.

Jack Cafferty is thinking about all of this, including the president of the United States, who's on a trip to Latin America.

Jack, I can't tell you how courageous our journalists, especially Nic Robertson, Arwa Damon -- they're in different parts of Libya right now. But I got to tell you, as all of our viewers know, this young man and young woman -- I say young deliberately -- they have guts.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they do. And I have worked here for a little over 10 years and I have seen Nic Robertson report from all kinds of places around the globe.

I have never seen him as exercised as he was a few minutes ago when he was talking about those clowns over at the F-word network manufacturing some bogus story about him and his crew being used as human shields. Nic is unflappable, but enough is enough, I guess. And they managed to get under his skin pretty good. Shame on them.

President Obama's in Chile today. It's the second stop on a three-nation five-day trip to South and Central America. It's the first time in the region since he took office. But it comes at a time when this country is suddenly involved in another hostile military action, these airstrikes in Libya, the possible meltdown of nuclear reactors in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami that killed tens of thousands and could cripple that country's economy, the third largest in the world, for years, and on the home front, a budget crisis and game of Russian roulette over raising the national debt limit that could lead to the shutdown of the federal government, perfect time to pack up the wife, kids, mother-in-law, whoever else and head off down to Carnival in Rio.

The White House says the goal of the president's trip to Latin America is to expand trade and create more jobs here in the United States. Republicans like Senate minority Leader Mitch McConnell are challenging that. They say that President Obama has dragged his feet on free trade deals with two Latin American allies, Colombia and Panama.

McConnell says these three -- these trade deals were negotiated, finalized three years ago and have broad bipartisan support. He says it's the administration that is holding things up.

So, here's the question. Is this the right time for President Obama to go to Latin America? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

President Obama says Libya's leader -- that's Gadhafi -- needs to go, go away. But do the allies have a mandate to force him militarily from power? Stand by.

Libya's opposition is getting a major boost from allied airpower. But who are these rebels? Could they even include members of al Qaeda? We will ask Peter Bergen.

And in sharp contrast, in Congress right now, some criticism of the U.S. Libya mission from both sides of the aisle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The British government is facing a backlash for its role in the attacks against the Gadhafi regime. Some anti-war protesters took to the streets of London, some carrying Libyan flags. The British prime minister, David Cameron, defended the mission once again today, saying the world can't stand aside while a dictator murders his own people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We must be clear what our role is, and our role is to enforce that U.N. Security Council resolution.

Many people would ask questions, I'm sure, today about regime change and Gadhafi and the rest of it. I have been clear. I think Libya needs to get rid of Gadhafi, but, in the end, we are responsible for trying to enforce this Security Council resolution. The Libyans must choose their own future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The United States has become the reluctant leader of this no-fly coalition, at least for now. So why haven't more Arab nations delivered on promises of help?

Our national security analyst Peter Bergen is here.

What happened to all the Arab League support that was supposed to be very visible as part of this effort to create a no-fly zone?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I guess they weren't listening to Bob Gates when he said what it actually would take to do a no-fly zone. It would involve real attacks against Libya's anti- aircraft defenses.

And don't forget that the Arab League, this is the first time in the Arab League's six-decade history that they have actually done anything of any significance in the Arab world. It's easy for them to condemn Zionism and all that kind of thing, but for actual action against another Arab state, this is extremely unusual for them.

And I think they had buyer's remorse.

BLITZER: Because you're rethinking some of the arguments you made in an excellent CNN.com column that you posted this weekend.

BERGEN: Well, I don't know if I'm rethinking necessarily. Qatar is still involved.

BLITZER: Qatar has decided to participate, nominally, not with a whole lot of military might, but the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, where they are?

BERGEN: Well, they're nowhere. But of those four that you mentioned, UAE and Jordan were the two ones that were supposed to do something. UAE has defaulted into humanitarian help for the mission.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What happened to Kuwait, for example?

BERGEN: I don't know. I really don't know, Wolf.

But the fact is, is that they didn't -- while Amr Moussa, the leader of the Arab League, sort of made some statements saying, we're backing off, eventually, according to our reporting on CNN, they said we're still behind the no-fly zone. So what they have said publicly and what they're kind of saying privately seems to be in conflict. The fact is that they still are behind the no-fly zone.

BLITZER: Gadhafi keeps saying that these rebels are al Qaeda. Now, you're an authority on al Qaeda. You have got a bestselling book out now, "The Longest War," on al Qaeda. Is there an element of truth in what he says, that these rebels are al Qaeda?

BERGEN: We don't really know who the rebels are. Let's start with that.

The fact is, is that about 40 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq in 2007 came from Eastern Libya. So, it's not completely implausible that members of al Qaeda are in Eastern Libya. Contradicting that, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which is the al Qaeda affiliate there, has actually sort of publicly renounced al Qaeda and its ideology.

So, of course Gadhafi would say that. Like any propaganda, there's a small element of truth in it, but this rebellion is much larger. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, for instance, is a group in the low hundreds. We're looking at obviously a very substantial rebel force.

BLITZER: They're looking at hundreds of thousands of people now who are opposed to -- Benghazi alone is a city of 800,000 people.

BERGEN: Right. But let's say this devolved into a civil war, which it already has to some degree. But let's say it stays a civil war. Certainly al Qaeda, opportunistically, always likes to take advantage of these kinds of situations.

So it would be as wrong to discount them completely as to say that they're the main cause of all this.

BLITZER: Peter, thanks for coming in.

BERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen helping us, as he always does.

Allied airstrikes give Libyan rebels cause to celebrate. Can they take advantage of the setbacks to Gadhafi's forces? Our own Arwa Damon is standing by live in Benghazi. We will go there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Anti-aircraft gunfire either (INAUDIBLE)

(GUNFIRE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Only moments ago, you saw it live here on CNN, anti- aircraft fire, tracer fire over the skies of Tripoli, Libya. Nic Robertson was on the scene telling us what was going on. Every two hours or so, we see a similar situation unfolding.

As this is unfolding over Tripoli, Libyan rebels have been celebrating the air campaign, which apparently has halted pro-Gadhafi forces in their tracks.

Let's bring in CNN's Arwa Damon. She's with the opposition in Benghazi, the second largest city of Libya right now. I assume every time they see the tracer fire, they see the coalition aircraft coming in, the Tomahawk Cruise missiles, they celebrate where you are, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they most certainly do. They firmly believe that, without this foreign intervention, they would all eventually been massacred.

If we just go back to Saturday, Gadhafi's forces were out on the outskirts of Benghazi. They were in Benghazi. They launched an attack that ended up leaving 95 people dead with eyewitnesses telling us they saw tanks barreling down the road, firing indiscriminately into civilian areas. One eyewitness describing how Gadhafi's troops were laughing as they unleashed their -- their machine-gun fire. Truly disturbing. Everyone absolutely petrified.

The opposition did that day manage to drive Gadhafi's forces out, but no one was under any illusion that they would be able to sustain this in the long-term.

When those air strikes happened on Sunday, everybody here celebrated. Everybody was expressing their gratitude to the international community. Because those air strikes that (AUDIO GAP) took place some 20 miles outside of Benghazi where Gadhafi's military was massed, preparing itself for another attack, literally did bring his military machine to a grinding halt. We counted 70 damaged military vehicles.

Gadhafi's forces were then forced to withdraw to the city of Ajdabiya, and that is where opposition forces are right now trying to drive them out of that city. But regaining very critical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any indication that these opposition forces are gearing up to actually march on Tripoli?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, they say that that is their intent, although they do realize that it is a very long and tough road to actually be able to reach Tripoli itself. They still have to deal with a number of areas in between, not to mention Ajdabiya that we were just talking about. They first need to drive Gadhafi's military out of there.

There was one report we heard from an opposition source that a unit of opposition fighters had actually tried to outflank Gadhafi's military, circling around Ajdabiya, heading toward the critical city of Brega. And they do say that they plan on taking this all the way to Tripoli. They're also hoping and counting on the fact that the more that Gadhafi's military is defeated, the more people are going to start coming out and standing against his regime, because they no longer will be as intimidated by his forces.

But this still remains a very complex battlefield. The opposition says it's also having to deal with these sleeper cells, Gadhafi loyalists, pockets of them in various cities. In Benghazi, they say they detained 150 of them. They're also very concerned about the fact that they say Gadhafi could be trying to use as civilian populations basically as human shields.

One opposition leader telling some of his units had moved some 300 miles south of Ajdabiya to embed themselves in civilian populations there, perhaps to try to wait this out. And they do realize, the opposition does, that this is really just the beginning of a very, very tough road ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: And if you're looking ahead down the road, talk a little bit about your experience in Egypt. We all remember your brilliant coverage of Tahrir Square, the rebels there who were fighting Mubarak and his forces. Compare and contrast them to what you're seeing with these Libyan rebels who are fighting Gadhafi.

DAMON: Well, Wolf, I mean, Egypt at the end of the day, fell -- Mubarak fell much quicker than it does appear Gadhafi is going to fall. There, those who were opposing Mubarak's regime, by and large, did manage to bring him down fairly quickly. Eighteen days it was. The celebrations that followed thereafter, of course, very joyous, people ecstatic that they'd managed to do that.

Here it has turned into an armed conflict. Here the force that Gadhafi used against his own people was so great and so relentless that the demonstrators, civilians, felt that they had to pick up weapons, train themselves how to fight on them, and then stage themselves up against a military machine. So the dynamics here are much, much more violent, much more complex.

It does not appear that Gadhafi is going to be relinquishing his grip on power any time soon. And add to that the fact that foreign pressure on Gadhafi doesn't really work the way it did in Mubarak's case -- Wolf. BLITZER: When I was in Egypt last week, the Egyptians kept saying to me the major difference between what happened in Egypt and what's happening now in Libya is that the Egyptian military, by and large, refused to kill fellow Egyptians. The Libyan military under Gadhafi obviously ready to kill fellow Libyans. A huge, huge difference. And that's why this war has unfolded the way it has.

Arwa, thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you. Please, please be careful.

Unrest continues elsewhere in the Arab world, as well. In Yemen, three top generals and several senior officials declared their support for anti-government demonstrations today, and one general said he'll order his troops to defend protesters. The Yemeni official says these moves suggest the early stages of a bloodless coup.

Pressure is certainly mounting on the long-time president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, after a crack down on protesters left 52 people dead last week.

In Syria -- yes, Syria -- hundreds of people marched today in the southern city of Dahra after the burial of a protester who witnesses say was killed in Sunday's clashes with security forces. Five people have reportedly died in the city since Friday.

Opponents accuse the government of President Bashar Assad of massive human rights abuses and are calling for political and economic reforms.

Bahrain's ruler says a, quote, "external plot" -- their word -- to destabilize the country has been foiled. At the same time, the government is denying accusations that it's targeting doctors. The statement follows allegations from Human Rights Watch, the organization which says several doctors were arrested in nighttime raids.

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim monarchy has waged a violent crackdown on anti-government protestors, mostly from the Shiite majority. Neighboring countries have sent troops in to help quell the protests.

Unlikely alliance. Left-leaning Democrats, conservative Republicans unite over the military mission in Libya. You're going to find out why they're furious -- furious -- at President Obama right now. Why Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic congressman from Ohio, says President Obama could face impeachment. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Taking some heat in Congress for his decision to go -- from Republicans and even from some members of his own party. CNN's Dana Bash reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The military operation in Libya is resulting in something unusual in Congress these days: a bipartisan response. That is, sharp criticism from both parties. From the left...

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON D.C.: We're not coordinating with the rebels. Are we going to leave them surrounded and at the mercy -- mercy of Gadhafi? I've never seen anything so confused in my life.

BASH: ... and the right.

REP. CANDICE MILLER (R), MICHIGAN: I think the president should come home, and I think he should call the Congress back into session to make his case. He needs to define what the United States' vital mission is here, what is our vital interest, how does he see the potential cost unfolding here?

BASH: Leading Republicans from House Speaker John Boehner to the foreign affairs and armed services chairman all say President Obama must more clearly define the mission. One issue, they say: mixed signals coming from the administration, such as whether the goal is to get rid of Muammar Gadhafi.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Certainly the goals of this campaign right now again are limited, and it isn't -- it isn't about seeing him go.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go.

BASH: The president insists there's no contradiction. One is military action to back a U.N. resolution; the other, U.S. policy.

Veteran Republican Senator Richard Lugar opposed a no-fly zone in Libya from the start. He told CNN's "JOHN KIND USA" he's more concerned now.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: No, I do not understand the mission, because as far as I can tell and in the United States, there is no mission. And there are no guidelines for success.

BASH: Congressional criticism is loud and widespread, but the president does also have support.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: He has a very clear defined role of what the United States is doing in support of France and Great Britain and our Arab League partners and other nations who are going to be leading the charge on the no-fly zone.

BASH: Still, many in the president's own party argue so far he has not fulfilled his constitutional obligation to consult Congress.

NORTON: The president is going to have a hard time getting Democrats to support this unless he comes forward with a great deal more.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Now Wolf, the president did send this letter to Congress this afternoon, trying to define the mission, he says. But that's not going to satisfy many Democrats. Dennis Kucinich, for example, he says it's an impeachable offense that the president used military action without coming to Congress first.

And I should also say that the president did have a meeting last Friday in the Situation Room with congressional leaders, but not everybody could attend in person. Some were on -- on the phone including House Speaker John Boehner. Now he is critical now. I am told by a GOP source, Wolf, that he did not ask questions in that meeting, but because he was on the phone, that source insists it was hard for him to hear. And he said nobody muted their phones on the 20-person call -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty shocking that Dennis Kucinich says the president could be impeached for this action. But that's Dennis Kucinich.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Dana.

Iraq, Afghanistan, now Libya. Can the U.S. intervene there, not take action in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, some other places? What's going on? We're digging deeper on that and other matters. The breaking news continuing right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN's David Gergen writes today that the Obama administration made a, quote, "head-snapping change in policy toward Libya." Now the U.S. is suddenly the de facto leader of an air campaign. Is the mission clear? Is the country behind it?

Let's bring in our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

David, I'll get to you in a moment, but the new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, Gloria, should the -- on the U.S. and other countries establishing a no-fly zone in Libya, last week only 56 percent were in favor. Now that it's happened, 70 percent of the American public favor this. I guess we shouldn't be that surprised. Once the U.S. goes into military operation, the public joins in support, at least initially.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the public joins in support of the military. We didn't see -- what was interesting was we didn't see a sharp increase in the president's popularity, which sometimes can happen, that people rally around the commander in chief.

But you know, Wolf, these polls can change daily depending on what happens in Libya. If this thing drags on, you can bet that those -- those polls would start heading south.

BLITZER: David, is this a situation, in your opinion -- and I know you've written about this -- that could spiral out of control? DAVID GERGEN, CNN ANALYST: Sure. It could spiral out of control in a lot of different ways. But especially if -- if Gadhafi were suddenly to use mustard gas or something like that. We don't know what's going to happen.

I think, Wolf, two things have happened. One is the administration and the allies have made a lot of progress in our main two goals, and that is to suppress the Libyan air defenses and to -- and to stop Gadhafi in his tracks as he tries to take Benghazi. Those two missions, they're largely on the way, too.

And after a lot of confusion about what the end game is, when you piece it together, through a lot of confusing and what seemed to be contradictory statements by people within the administration, there does -- there does seem to be a logic to it, as contorted as it is. And that is we use the force only for defensive purpose. We don't help the rebels, but we're going to get Gadhafi out by sanctions and other things after the force has been put in place.

BORGER: But Wolf, I think the question is really how do you measure success here? You know, the president was having a kind of a rough time today, as Dana Bash pointed out. You know, on the one hand, he said it's U.S. policy to get rid of Gadhafi. He's got to go.

But on the other hand, it's not U.N. policy to get rid of Gadhafi. I wonder whether he has second thoughts about having said that.

But you know, it's a little bit confusing when you have a humanitarian mission, and the man who's most responsible for murdering people still remains in power. How can you declare that humanitarian mission a success?

BLITZER: Normally David, before a president of the United States sends young men and women off to war, he is in the Oval Office, addressing the American public in a speech. That did not happen this time.

GERGEN: I think that was a mistake, Wolf. And he did not consult the Congress fully. I think that was a mistake, as well.

This has all been cobbled together very quickly and has a real sense of improvisation. It -- hopefully, it's going to work. But when the president comes back from Latin America, it's imperative that he sit down with Congress and then address the American people about what he is trying to do, spell it out. We shouldn't have to stitch it together from all these different statements from different people.

BORGER: And Wolf, I was talking today with Richard Haas, who's the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He had a very interesting point here. He said that Obama was much more focused on the process here, getting the coalition together, than he actually was on the policy.

And he made the point to me just because you have the Arab League aboard and you have the U.N. Security Council doesn't make the end game any better or any easier. And he said too much focus on sort of that coalition. Not enough focus on how we actually get out of this.

BLITZER: All right, guys. I know both of you have excellent columns, and our viewers are going to want to go to CNN.com to read Gloria's column. David's...

BORGER: Tomorrow.

BLITZER: Yours is going to be -- yours is not posted yet?

BORGER: No, tomorrow.

BLITZER: David, yours is posted, though.

BORGER: Yes.

GERGEN: Yes, it is.

BLITZER: I've read Gloria's already. She gave me an advance look at her column. I thought they posted it but they will, and our viewers will want to read it.

David, thanks.

Gloria, thanks to you, as well.

The U.S. and coalition nations carrying out air strikes in Libya. You're telling Jack if the time is right for President Obama to be in Latin America.

And for decades Gadhafi used his Tripoli compound as a symbol of his survival against America's military might. Now it's in ruins. We have the pictures to show you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: "Is this the right time for President Obama to go on a tour of South and Latin America?"

Jason from Colorado says, "Yes. The president is in Latin America. He's trying to shore up jobs and investment and get us out of this economic downturn. The president can and is doing his job from anywhere in the world. It's called telecommunications."

Rose writes, "No, it's not the right time for him to be in Latin America. It appears that Hillary Clinton has taken the lead on the issue in Libya. And where's Vice President Biden? I think I read he's holding a fund raiser. Is appears -- it appears that Obama has his priorities in the wrong order. We're playing a game of follow the leader, but who's the leader?"

Kirk writes from Minnesota, "Why do you ask these kinds of questions? Of course, it's the right time for President Obama to go to Latin America or any other place in the world. Is Libya the only problem he ought to worry about? Or the Japanese nuclear power plant debacle? Give me a break, Jack."

Ed in Maryland says, "Is that where they're going attack next?"

Jenna in California: "Why not? Is there anything he can't do from Latin America that must only be done in Washington, D.C.? I think not. You forget that we have a president that can actually walk and chew gum at the same time. I know this was an impossible task with the last president, but it's not with Obama."

Bob in Pennsylvania: "When you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

And Rich in Texas: "Did Obama go somewhere? He better get those frequent flyer miles on Air Force One while he can, because 2012 is right around the corner, and anything he flies on after that, he'll have to pay for."

If you want to read more on the subject go to my blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.

Senator Richard Lugar says President Obama has failed to define what the U.S. is doing in Libya. The Indiana Republican talks to our own John King right at the top of the hour. He's laying out why he says there is no mission and no guidelines for success.

Plus, a missile strike leaves Gadhafi's military compound in shambles. But do some stand to make a profit on the debris left behind?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A look at some protests around the Middle East.

In Yemen, take a look at this. A soldier who defected holds up his gun as he joins an anti-government protest.

In Bahrain women shout anti-government slogans during a funeral procession.

In Syria -- yes, Syria -- men join a march demanding freedom and the end to 48 years of emergency law.

In Egypt, supporters and opponents of the Libyan leader Gadhafi clash outside the Arab League's headquarters.

Just a glimpse of protests spreading across the region as we speak.

Muammar Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli is in ruins tonight after a coalition missile strike. But will some of the debris become coveted souvenirs of war, bought and sold on the Internet?

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's launched. It lands. Plucked from the damage it did. Its remains are hoisted like holy relics.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're saying that this is the proof. This is the proof.

MOOS: Missile parts at Gadhafi's compound, hot off the presses.

ROBERTSON: This is still warm.

MOOS: They tap on the reporter's arm, show him more. They peer at it like an alien craft dropped in from outer space, a missile reportedly fired by a British sub, landed about 100 yards from this sculpture commissioned by Gadhafi the last time his compound was hit by President Reagan.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today we have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again.

MOOS: The golden fist clutching a U.S. warplane is one of Gadhafi's favorite props, an image shown over the leader's speeches.

MUAMMAR GADHAFI, LEADER OF LIBYA (through translator): We have Allah with us. You have the devil on your side.

MOOS: If Gadhafi survives this time, you can imagine him making another monument out of the Cruise missile parts. Or maybe the finders will put them on eBay; not yet, though. A search for "Libya missile" turns up nothing more deadly than an old Libyan postage stamp featuring missile launchers manned by women.

Some missile part finders behaved as if they'd like to bomb the cameras covering them. And everyone is speculating whether the missile was sent to kill Muammar Gadhafi or, as the allies say, to take out command and control.

GEN. CARTER HAM, COMMANDER, U.S. ALLIED COMMAND: I have no mission to attack that -- that person.

MOOS: That person, address unknown.

(voice-over) Talk about dueling headlines. Is it "Gadhafi Dead Duck" or is it "No Go on Mo." Will they stick to merely enforcing no- fly zone, or will they take a swat at the fly in the ointment?

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.