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Libyan crisis: Latest developments, March 23

Destroyed Libyan missile launchers in Tripoli
This image taken during an organized trip by the Libyan authorities shows a multiple rocket launcher destroyed outside what was described as a maintenance warehouse hit by two missiles on a Naval base in Tripoli, Libya, March 22, 2011. AP

Updated 5:52 p.m. ET

  • (Reuters) Al Arabiya TV is reporting air strikes of some kind on Qaddafi's compound in the hotly contested coastal city of Ajdabiya.
  • (AP) Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged Wednesday that there is no clear end to the international military enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, and says no one was ever under any illusion that the assault would last just two or three weeks. He added that the U.S. could turn over control of the operation as soon as Saturday, but could not say how the coalition operation might be resolved.
  • (CBS/AP) Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber said the coalition is targeting Muammar Qaddafi's mechanized forces, his artillery and mobile missile sites as well as ammunition and other supplies for government troops. He says that with the eastern city of Benghazi in rebel control, coalition forces have moved west to try to protect Ajdabiya and Misrata. Officials also reported bombing an ammunition depot Wednesday near Misrata.
  • 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
  • (CBS/AP) President Barack Obama categorically ruled out the deployment of U.S. troops on the ground in Libya, even if embattled leader Muammar Qaddafi retains his hold on power. Mr. Obama was asked in an interview with the Spanish-language network Univision if a land invasion would be out of the question in the event air strikes fail to dislodge Qaddafi from power. Obama replied that it was "absolutely" out of the question. Asked what the exit strategy is, Obama did not lay out a vision for ending the international action but rather said: "The exit strategy will be executed this week in the sense that we will be pulling back from our much more active efforts to shape the environment.
  • (CBS/AP) The cost of military intervention in Libya has cost the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars, with the figure racing toward a $1 billion.

    Zack Cooper, senior analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told that the cost of airstrikes could reach $800 million to completely establish the no-fly zone and $100 million more a week to keep it going.

    The U.S. has launched hundreds of $1 million missiles, brought in an array of jets, warships, bombers, and refueling tankers and already lost one $75 million fighter jet.

    "Every six hours we have another billion-dollar deficit," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "This could cost us a billion dollars there, which means simply another billion-dollar debt that our kids."

  • (CBS/AP) The U.S. continues to emphasize its desire to cede its lead role in the Libyan mission to NATO or other allied partners, but it's so far finding few countries willing to step up. In the last 24 hours, U.S. forces flew 53 missions in Libya and dropped 10 bombs. All other air forces flew 26 missions and dropped eight bombs, CBS News correspondent David Martin reports. The U.S. "did the right thing ... by going to Benghazi last week, stopping a potential humanitarian disaster," former State Department official Nicholas Burns told CBS' "The Early Show" Wednesday, but it's time for allies to step up. "The Europeans are the ones who said that we had to go in here," Burns said. "They have a direct interest, a vital interest -- Britain, France, Italy, Spain -- and they ought to be doing more to help the United States. That's where the action is going to be over the next day or two."
  • (AP) Muammar Qaddafi's snipers and tanks are terrorizing civilians in the coastal city of Misrata, a resident said, and the U.S. military warned it was "considering all options" in response to dire conditions there that have left people cowering in darkened homes and scrounging for food and rainwater.
  • (AP) Agence France Presse said the Libyan government released on Wednesday three journalists captured last week near a key eastern city that has been a daily battleground between Qaddafi's forces and Libyan rebels. The AFP reported the three were freed in Tripoli.
  • President Obama is returning Wednesday to Washington from his Latin America trip a few hours earlier than planned. Mr. Obama said Tuesday (video) in El Salvador that he had "absolutely no doubt" the U.S. would be able to transition the lead role in maintaining the Libya no-fly zone to its allies in Europe and the Middle East in the near future.
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  • (CBS/AP) Col. Muammar Qaddafi made his first public appearance in a week on Tuesday, promising enthusiastic supporters at his recently-bombed residential compound in Tripoli, "In the short term, we'll beat them, in the long term, we'll beat them." The long-time Libyan ruler vowed that Western nations involved in the coalition military effort to thwart his brutal force against rebels would end up "in the dustbin of history."
  • (CBS/AP) Two explosions rocked Tripoli early Wednesday morning, likely the latest missile strikes by the U.S.-led coalition against Muammar Qaddafi's regime. The targets of the blasts remained unclear later Wednesday morning. Heavy anti-aircraft fire and loud explosions sounded in Tripoli after nightfall, possibly a new attack in the international air campaign that so far has focused on military targets. Two explosions were heard in the city before daybreak Wednesday.
  • Updates from Tuesday, March 22:
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has told ABC News the Obama administration is getting reports -- of questionable credibility -- that some in Qaddafi's inner circle may be looking for a way out of the crisis. She said some of them, allegedly acting on the Libyan leader's behalf, have reached out to people in Europe and elsewhere to ask, in effect, "How do we get out of this?" Clinton added that Qaddafi's behavior was often unpredictable, and attributed the reports, in part, to what she called "game playing" by the long-time ruler.
  • A CBS News Poll has found that almost 7 in 10 Americans supports the Obama administration's decision to launch air strikes against Qaddafi's forces in Libya. Half of those surveyed by CBS said they approved of Mr. Obama's broader reaction to the unfolding crisis in Libya.
  • (AP) Libyan soldiers physically abused a team of New York Times journalists and threatened to kill them during the six days they were held in captivity, the newspaper said Tuesday.
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