Libya's air force grounded by coalition strikes

Libyan rebel returns from the frontline at the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Tuesday, March 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

Muammar Qaddafi's hold on power could be getting more tenuous by the hour.

Allied air strikes reportedly targeted his compound in Ajdabiya Wednesday. Coalition planes also bombed Qaddafi's forces in Misrata, to stop them from shelling civilians.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he can't predict how long the operation will last, but said the U.S. could transfer control to allies by Saturday.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner wrote to President Obama to complain that the mission's goals are not clearly defined.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports from Tripoli that the combined coalition air forces have declared something like victory.

"Effectively, their air force no longer exists as a fighting force, and his integrated air defense system and command and control networks are severely degraded to the point that we can operate with near impunity across Libya," said Air Vice-Marshall Greg Bagwell of the British Royal Air Force.

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Control of the skies has lead to near control on the ground, as Qaddafi's forces have learned. As the bombing has continued, the brave face of the regime is showing some worry lines.

Instead of rambling on for hours as he often does, Qaddafi's latest pep-rally speech lasted a brief three minutes. Out in public is a risky place to be for him these days.

Also, where the obedient, cheering crowds once numbered in the tens of thousands, now they're often down to a few hundred, sometimes to mere dozens.

Even the regime's once vaunted PR machine is grinding down. On Wednesday, after much promising to show the world what it said were innocent civilians victims of the bombing, the van carrying reporters to an allegedly bombed civilian house either got lost and they never found the house -- or the victims weren't innocent.

There's been more bombing in Tripoli Wednesday night. There's still some shelling of rebel positions by pro-Qaddafi forces. Significantly though, when regime forces who had been shelling the rebels in the town of Misrata were bombed early in the morning, residents say the shelling stopped.

Coalition attacks give Libya civilians respite

Calling Qaddafi's position weakened may be too strong a term at this stage. It's more a question of body language on the part of the regime. There's less strutting going on. Perhaps there is a growing realization among the regime's supporters at least that this may be a fight they cannot win.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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