March 25, 2011— -- America may be handing off some of the responsibility of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya to other nations, but it is clear America's service men and women will still be bearing a heavy load, and Americans will be picking up a great deal of the tab.
Today, British fighter jets flew high above the Libyan desert searching for targets, taking out six tanks with precision guided missiles. Yet, despite a plan to get the rest of the world more involved, more than half of the nearly 100 strike missions in Libya in the past 24 hours were done by Americans.
"We are charged under the U.N. mandate with protecting the people of Libya, so nothing we do must put them at greater risk than the risk they faced at the hands of the Gadhafi regime," Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, said today at a press briefing.
"What we must focus on, rather, is limiting the regime's ability to inflict the harm by squeezing it and denying it the tools to do so. And we believe we're achieving some success in that regard," he said.
Already fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this third war zone only has added to the stress, not to mention the cost -- a whopping $258 million.
The U.S. Navy now has 12 ships in the Mediterranean, in less than a week firing 184 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The USS Kearsarge is the largest of these ships. The crew has actually been underway for 210 days, with only 4 days in port. In September, it was Pakistani flood relief. In January, many of its Marines sent to Afghanistan. In February, it stood by for possible evacuations from Egypt, and now, it's targeting Libya.
Adding to that, American fighter pilots routinely are flying five- to six-hour missions along with 24/7 coverage from communications planes and aerial refuelers.
But with other nations now taking the lead on enforcing the no-fly zone, the number of American fighter jets should at least be reduced, even though so many of the other aspects of this operation will continue to fall to the U.S.
U.S. Footing Bill in Libya?
According to Gortney, Gadhafi's military capabilities are declining fast.
"Gadhafi has virtually no air defense left to him and a diminishing ability to command and sustain his forces on the ground," he said. "His air force cannot fly. Warships are staying in port. His ammunition stores are being destroyed, communication towers are being toppled, and his command bunkers are being rendered useless."
ABC News' Kristina Wong contributed to this story.