Published March 21, 2011
British submarines fired two missiles at Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi’s compound in downtown Tripoli Sunday, a senior coalition official confirmed to Fox News, as part of a weekend of punishing attacks aimed at protecting the Libyan people.
The British Ministry of Defense confirmed that Qaddafi was not the target, but that the compound was hit because of its military significance. A Pentagon official had previously said Sunday that the coalition “will not be going after Qaddafi.”
The 4-story compound in downtown Tripoli was home to Qaddafi and was demolished by the attacks, though it hadn’t been confirmed when the strike occurred, Fox News’ Steve Harrigan reported.
Two circular holes in the roof, which are consistent with a missile strike, were visible and rubble littered the street. There were no known injuries, and it remains unclear where the leader has been living since the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone was ordered.
Pentagon officials said the weekend of strikes had scattered and isolated Qaddafi’s forces, and American military authorities are moving to hand control of the operation to other countries.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. expects to turn control of the mission over to a coalition -- probably headed either by the French and British or by NATO -- "in a matter of days."
Navy Vice Admiral William E. Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, said the coalition had control of the air space between Benghazi and Tripoli, Libya's capital and that the attacks had been successful.
"We judge these strikes to have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime's air defense capability," Gortney said. "We believe his forces are under significant stress and suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion."
Gortney said no allied planes have been lost and all pilots have returned safely from missions. There are no reports of civilian injury, but Gortney did not rule out the possibility of further attacks aimed at preventing Qaddafi from attacking civilians in Libya and enforcing a no-fly zone.
The attack on Qaddafi’s compound followed a day where the U.S. and allied forces claimed significant success in the early stages of enforcing the no-fly zone in Libya, said a military official at the Pentagon.
Military officials confirmed at a press conference Sunday that the U.S. fired 125 Tomahawk missiles onto strategic air defense systems across Libya.
The array of Tomahawk cruise missiles lit the night sky and were fired from a British submarine and a number of American destroyers and subs.
On Saturday, White House sounded optimistic about the action, which it called "a very good first day."
A total of 15 U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft engaged Libya, including three B-2 bombers.
The U.S.-led mission has a support cast of British and French fighters, as well as the backing of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Other countries will likely join the fray once the no-fly zone becomes more established. At that point, the U.S. will also likely give way to France or Britain to take the lead.
Planes also blasted a line of tanks that had been moving on the rebel capital Benghazi, in the opposition-held eastern half of the country, reported the Associated Press. On Sunday, at least seven demolished tanks smoldered in a field 12 miles south of Benghazi, many of them with their turrets and treads blown off, alongside charred armored personnel carriers, jeeps and SUVs of the kind used by Qaddafi fighters.
"I feel like in two days max we will destroy Qaddafi," Ezzeldin Helwani, 35, said. The rebel stood next to the smoldering wreckage of an armored personnel carrier, the air thick with smoke and the pungent smell of burning rubber. In a grisly sort of battle trophy, celebrating fighters hung a severed goat's head with a cigarette in its mouth from the turret of one of the gutted tanks.
Rebels occupy Benghazi while Qaddafi forces remain in Tripoli.
Pentagon officials Sunday were poring over satellite images to ascertain the damage of Saturday's military strikes.
Large explosions were heard in Tripoli, possibly a cruise missile targeting a command and control center, Fox News' Steve Harrigan reported. Anti-aircraft tracer fire from pro-Qaddafi forces was seen in the night sky after an explosion was heard 2 miles from the compound housing the Libyan strongman.
On Libyan state radio, Qaddafi called the raids “acts of terrorism,” adding that all of the country's people were now carrying weapons to defend the nation.
"We promise you a long war," he said in the address.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. and allied forces have effectively established a no-fly zone over Libya in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."
"We've had a pretty significant impact in this first 24 hours ... I would say the no-fly zone we were tasked to put in place is now in place," Mullen said.
His Highness El-Sayyid Idris Abdullah Al-Senussi, nephew of His Majesty King Idris of Libya and the son of His Highness El-Sayyid Abdallah Abed Al-Senussi, made a statement exclusively obtained by Fox supporting military action against Qaddafi.
"I strongly support the military actions taken by coalition forces against Muammar al-Qaddafi," Al Senussi said. "I wish to commend the French forces along with the other coalition nations participating in Operation Odyssey Dawn. I also wish to commend the Arab League for their historic resolution condemning Muammar al-Qaddafi and calling for a no-fly zone in Libya that lead to the U.N. adopting resolution 1973."
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, The Associated Press and NewsCore contributed to this report.