NATO: Gaddafi whereabouts unknown, not a target

BRUSSELS Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:48am EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO does not know where Muammar Gaddafi is and does not view him as a target, but it will continue bombing the Libyan leader's command facilities if needed, it said on Tuesday.

The military alliance declined to confirm media reports that it had targeted Gaddafi's stronghold of Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli, where rebels have amassed in the past two days after taking over large parts of the capital.

A NATO spokesman said the situation remained "fluid" and dangerous for civilians, even though the rebel forces had made significant advances. He said further air strikes by the alliance were likely to be needed and he would not put a timeframe on how long operations were likely to continue.

"A number of areas are still contested, we have to remain vigilant and to continue to protect the civilian population," spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie told a briefing in Naples.

"Of course, we do target command and control facilities, so if Gaddafi is located in a facility that commands and controls attacks, these are legitimate targets and we would strike."

Asked if NATO knew where Gaddafi was, he replied:

"If you know, let me know. I don't have a clue, and I'm not sure actually that it really does matter, in the sense that the resolution of this situation will be political."

"I think everybody recognizes that Gaddafi will likely not be part of that solution. He's not a key player anymore."

NATO is operating under a United Nations mandate to protect the civilian population, although the Libyan government has accused the alliance of fighting on behalf of the rebels.

As rebels have rapidly gained ground in the past several days, Western powers have moved ahead with plans to support a new administration in Libya, led by the National Transitional Council, which is recognized by the EU and United States.

Ambassadors of NATO countries are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the operations and a possible role for the alliance once armed conflict is over.

A NATO spokeswoman said any NATO involvement would be in a supporting role, following a UN lead, and ruled out the presence of alliance troops on the ground.

Since NATO took over Libya operations at the end of March, it has struck nearly 5,000 targets such as command facilities, warehouses, radars, rocket launchers and tanks.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Luke Baker/Maria Golovnina)

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