11:28 a.m. update: WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pentagon: US jet that crashed in Libya was on strike mission against government missile site.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coalition forces pounded Libyan military targets with 24 more Tomahawk missiles, expanding the no-fly zone over the North African nation but suffering the loss of a U.S. fighter jet, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The two-man crew of an F-15E Strike Eagle was recovered and suffered only minor injuries, U.S. Africa Command said.
Meanwhile, the two dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from U.S. and British submarines in the last 24 hours, a defense official said early Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the daily Pentagon briefing on the operation had not yet occurred. That brought to about 160 the number of Tomahawk strikes aimed at disabling Libyan command and control facilities, air defenses and other targets since the operation started Saturday, the official said.
He said the strikes overnight Monday and into Tuesday effectively extended the area covered by the no-fly zone, but declined to describe how large the zone now is.
Officials declined to say what mission the F-15 pilot and weapons officer were on at the time of the crash Monday. But they said one crew member was recovered by rebels and the other was picked up by a Marine Corps search and rescue plane. Both were in U.S. hands Tuesday and off Libya soil.
The incident came after the commander of the international effort said the operation was achieving its goal of setting up a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians from the forces of leader Moammar Gadhafi. Building on what U.S. Gen. Carter Ham on Monday called a successful first stage of the coalition military action, the focus was shifting to widening the no-fly zone across the North African country while continuing smaller-scale attacks on Libyan air defenses and setting the stage for a humanitarian relief mission, he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others said the U.S. military's role will lessen in coming days as other countries take on more missions and the need declines for large-scale offensive action like the barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired over the weekend mainly by U.S. ships and submarines off Libya's coast.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified data, said Monday the attacks thus far had reduced Libya's air defense capabilities by more than 50 percent. That has enabled the coalition to focus more on extending the no-fly zone, which is now mainly over the coastal waters off Libya and around the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east, across the country to the Tripoli area this week.
Discord was evident Monday in Europe over whether the military operation should be controlled by NATO. Turkey blocked the alliance's participation, while Italy issued a veiled threat to withdraw the use of its bases unless the alliance was put in charge. Germany also questioned the wisdom of the operation, and Russia's Vladimir Putin railed against the U.N.-backed airstrikes as outside meddling "reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade."
Ham, the lead U.S. commander, said Monday it was possible that Gadhafi might manage to retain power, a possible outcome that stands in contrast to President Barack Obama's declaration that Gadhafi must go.
The Libyan leader has ruled the North African nation for 42 years and was a target of American air attacks in 1986.
In Russia for an awkwardly timed visit on other topics, Gates said it would be a mistake to set Gadhafi's ouster as a military goal.
"I think it's pretty clear to everybody that Libya would be better off without Gadhafi," he said in an interview with Interfax news agency. "That is a matter for the Libyans themselves to decide," and given the opportunity they may take it, Gates said.
Other administration officials said Washington is not interested in using military action to get rid of Gadhafi. Rather, a combination of international sanctions and other non-military actions designed to isolate Gadhafi and undermine his authority are more likely to hasten his demise, they said.
Rep. Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview Monday: "The goal is to be achieved in days, not weeks, without U.S. boots on the ground. As the hours go by, allied countries, Europe and the Arab countries are playing a larger role. Our role is becoming less."
Obama addressed the Libya matter while visiting Chile on Monday. He contrasted his approach in Libya, in which his administration insisted on an international military partnership, with President George W. Bush's actions in Iraq, where U.S. forces bore the bulk of the burden.
"As you know, in the past there have been times where the United States acted unilaterally or did not have full international support, and as a consequence typically it was the United States military that ended up bearing the entire burden," Obama said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)