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Officials: US drone fired in Gadhafi strike; administration looking ahead to Libya's future
WASHINGTON (AP) ' With the end of the Libya mission in sight, U.S. officials were looking ahead to where they might shift American aircraft and drones that have played a role there for seven months, right through to the assault on Moammar Gadhafi's convoy.
And they were looking toward the formation of a stable Libyan nation, despite worries about the difficulties of forming disparate rebel groups into a unified government.
As international leaders tried to sort out the details of the ousted Libyan leader's death, U.S. officials confirmed on Friday that an American Predator drone took part in the airstrikes that hit Gadhafi's convoy. It's still not clear exactly how he got his fatal wounds.
The officials said the Predator fired on the convoy Thursday as it was fleeing Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, and French aircraft launched guided missiles. According to accounts a number of vehicles in the convoy were damaged or destroyed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operations.
Gadhafi was wounded when revolutionary fighters captured him, and later died. He had gunshot wounds to his head, chest and stomach.
The day after his death, NATO's top commander said he will recommend ending the alliance's mission in Libya.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined to go into the details of Gadhafi's "ignominious end" and argued that the dictator of four decades got what he deserved.
"This is a man who brutalized his people, and he's now gone. It's a cathartic moment for the country," Toner said. "They're moving forward. They're dealing with the death itself as well as the aftermath in as transparent a way as I think they can."
He suggested the focus on how Gadhafi died was misplaced.
Gadhafi had set his own fate, Toner said, when he refused to step down and decided to "put countless lives at risk and to fight to the bitter end. And so, what happened, happened."
Nevertheless, Toner called on Libyan authorities to provide a transparent account of how Gadhafi died. He said the U.S. government had the same information about it as the public, and was watching the same online videos.
He said the U.S. has urged Libyan authorities to "treat prisoners humanely and abide by international standards of justice and human rights," but declined to say whether the video evidence of Gadhafi's capture suggested American advice was being followed.
Toner said the important things now are how Libya's Transitional National Council establishes security and stability throughout the country and moves toward a democracy.
There are currently about 70 U.S. aircraft as well as a number of ships, three unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drones and several Predators assigned to the Libya mission. So far, none of those aircraft or ships have been moved or taken out of the mission, but many could move on fairly quickly. U.S. military officials said they anticipate moves to scale back the U.S. assets there, but it's not clear how long it may take to do that.
There is fervent demand particularly for the drones, both at the battlefronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other hotspots around the world, including Africa, South America and the Asia-Pacific region.
A senior U.S. military official said Friday that there are a number of Islamic extremists in Libya who will likely play a role in the new government. And military leaders are concerned about former insurgents in the country who reportedly had renounced extremism but had strong ties to al-Qaida leadership.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters, said the U.S. military also remains worried about weapons proliferation in Libya, amid ongoing suspicions that thousands of shoulder-launched missiles have gone missing and could end up in the hands of terrorists.
Libya was believed to have about 20,000 of the missiles ' known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS ' in its arsenals before civil war began in March.
The Obama administration froze some $37 billion in Gadhafi assets earlier this year. It has released $700 million so far to the National Transitional Council.
Toner said the Obama administration wants to get more of the money into the National Transitional Council's hands. "Going forward, we're going to look at ways to provide more of that money, unfreeze it, because it belongs to the Libyan people."
NATO warplanes have flown about 26,000 sorties, including over 9,600 strike missions. They destroyed Libya's air defenses and over 1,000 tanks, vehicles and guns, as well as Gadhafi's command and control networks. The estimated cost of the Libya military operation as of Sept. 30 was about $1.1 billion, which includes military missions, munitions, Defense Department supplies and humanitarian assistance.
In addition, the U.S. sold participating allies about $250 million worth of ammunition, spare parts, fuel and other support.