NATO airstrike hits near Gadhafi complex

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TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — A NATO airstrike hit an area near Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in the capital again Tuesday as military leaders voiced concerns about sustaining the operations if the alliance mission drags on.

A column of gray smoke could be seen rising from the area around Col. Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound shortly before dawn Tuesday. The concussion from the blast was felt at a hotel where journalists stay in the capital.

It was not clear what was targeted, and Libyan officials didn’t comment immediately.

East of the capital, alliance aircraft began dropping leaflets warning government troops to abandon their posts outside Zlitan, which lies just west of the rebel-held port city of Misrata.

Rebel forces have been advancing along the Mediterranean coast toward Zlitan but say they have been instructed by NATO to withdraw ahead of expected bombing runs to old front lines in Dafniya.

The 3-by-5-inch leaflets intended for forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi carry the NATO symbol and a picture of an Apache attack helicopter and burning tanks on one side. Green Arabic writing warns: “There’s no place to hide. It’s not too late to stop fighting. If you continue to threaten civilians, you will face destruction.” The message on the reverse urges soldiers to “stop and stay away from fighting now.”

An Associated Press reporter near the front line said NATO fighter jets were heard overhead.

If the rebels take Zlitan, they would be within 85 miles of the eastern outskirts of Tripoli. A rebel official said opposition leaders in Zlitan have been meeting with their counterparts in Misrata, but he acknowledged they face challenges in advancing on the city.

“We need the people of Zlitan to push more courageously forward. They are dependent on our movements, but the problem is only a third of that city is with the rebels,” said Ibrahim Beatelmal, a rebel military spokesman in Misrata.

NATO’s nearly three-month air campaign has grounded Col. Gadhafi’s air forces and weakened his military capabilities, but there are signs the pace of operations has put a strain on the trans-Atlantic alliance.

In London, the head of the Royal Navy warned that the British fleet — a key contributor to the Libya mission — will be unable to maintain the pace of operations if the mission drags on until the end of the year.

Adm. Mark Stanhope told reporters Monday he was comfortable with NATO’s decision to extend the Libya operation to the end of September, but he said that beyond that time the government would need to make “challenging decisions.”

“If we do it longer than six months, we will have to reprioritize forces,” he said.

Elsewhere, a senior NATO official said coalition resources would become “critical” if intervention in Libya continues.

“If additional resources are needed, this, of course, will need a political decision,” said the official, French air force Gen. Stephane Abrial, NATO’s supreme allied commander transformation.

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