ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: The Pentagon says the attacks on Libya’s air defense systems are having a significant impact and that the no fly zone is in effect.
Vice Admiral William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, told Pentagon reporters today that “the no fly zone is effectively in place.” He added that "we now have the ability, capability to patrol the airspace over Libya and we are doing just that shifting to a more consistent and persistent air presence.”
But the US and coalition are not only targeting missile defense sites to set up the no fly zone, but also targeting pro-Gadhafi ground forces advancing on opposition-controlled Benghazi.
Gortney said that 15 American, British and French fighter aircraft struck at mechanized forces advancing on the city. After the attacks, Gortney described a safer situation for rebel forces in the city who just days ago seemed to be rapidly losing ground.
“Benghazi is not completely safe from attack, but it is certainly under less threat than it was yesterday,” he said. “We believe his forces are under significant stress and are suffering from isolation and a good deal of confusion.”
Gortney explained the attacks on ground forces saying, “if they are moving and advancing onto the opposition forces in Libya, yes, we will take them under attack. What to do the Libyans have to do to stop the attacks from the air? “If they no longer advance on Benghazi it would be a good sign.”
Today’s coalition strikes also included a strike on hardened aircraft hangars at an airfield outside of Misrutah. The strikes were conducted by three B-2 bombers which flew from their homebase at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. ABC News has learned that the bombers were refueled four times as they conducted a mission that lasted more than 25 hours from start to finish. The planes dropped 45 2,000 pound bombs on their targets.
He did not rule out that the US will continue to fly patrols as part of the no-fly zone after this initial phase, but for now the US will provide tanker refuelers, reconnaissance and electronic jammers to the coalition forces enforcing the no fly zone.
An additional 12 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched at Libyan air defense targets last night raising to 124 the total number of cruise missiles launched by the US and British navies. ABC News has learned that the British have only launched two Tomahawk missiles a submarine in the Mediterranean.
Gortney said there was no evidence of civilian casualties that had been reported by Libyan state media and said flatly “we are not targeting Gadhafi.”
He described the first wave of missile attacks has having been “very effective in significantly degrading the regime’s air defense capability… there has been no new air activity by the regime and we have detected no radar emissions from the air defense sites targeted and there has been a significant decrease in the air use of all Libyan air surveillance radars which is most of those limited to areas around Tripoli and Sirte.”
According to Gortney the no fly zone will stretch from Tripoli to Benghazi and the top third of the country.