WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Libyan rebels appeared to be in control of most of Tripoli, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, adding that it was sticking to its assessment that leader Muammar Gaddafi had not left the country.
Calling the situation fluid, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said that Gaddafi’s forces remained dangerous even though their command capabilities had been diminished by major rebel advances into the heart of the capital and NATO air strikes.
The United States, which is providing Predator drones and other air capabilities to the NATO mission, sharply stepped up the tempo of its air strikes on Libya over the past week and a half, according to Pentagon data.
“It’s still very fluid, there’s still fighting going on,” Lapan said. “While we believe that opposition forces control a large part of the country, Libya and Tripoli in particular are still very dangerous places.”
Asked specifically about Tripoli, Lapan said the situation was too fluid to put a precise percentage on how much of the city was under rebel control. Rebel leaders say 80 percent of the Libyan capital is now controlled by forces opposed to Gaddafi.
“Majority (control of Tripoli) is safe but I wouldn’t get beyond that,” he said.
The United States was monitoring Libya’s chemical weapons sites, Lapan said, amid concern in Congress that those and other Libyan weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
Lapan said he was aware of a total of two Scud missile launches by Gaddafi forces. A U.S. official told Reuters that neither caused any injuries or deaths.
“Regime forces are going to use whatever means they have to continue to inflict damage on their opponents and on the civilian population,” he said.
The Pentagon said on Monday that it believed Gaddafi had not left the country, a position Lapan reaffirmed on Tuesday, saying: “Nothing’s changed.”
Still, he did not offer any more precise assessment about Gaddafi’s potential whereabouts.
Gaddafi’s son and presumed heir Saif al-Islam told a crowd that his father was well and still in Tripoli, confounding reports of his capture.
Asked whether the Pentagon was surprised by the emergence of Gaddafi’s son, whom the rebels had initially said was in their hands, Lapan said: “We’ve seen conflicting reports. Again it goes back to a very fluid situation ... We continue to see conflicting reports about the whereabouts certain individuals.”
Editing by Philip Barbara