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Col. Gadhafi and his residence are not on a list of targets to be hit by coalition aircraft, Adm. Gortney said. But Col. Gadhafi won’t be safe “if he happens to be at a place, if he is inspecting a surface-to-air missile site and we don’t have any idea that he’s there or not,” Adm. Gortney said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the goals of the operation are to protect civilians from further violence by pro-Gadhafi forces, while enabling the flow of humanitarian relief supplies. But it was unclear how long the military effort would continue or on what scale.

That uncertainty led to criticism from senior Republicans in Congress.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the Obama administration “has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is” and how it will be accomplished.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Obama needs to tell the American public “to what extent military force will be used and for how long.”

Army Gen. Carter Ham, the top officer at U.S. Africa Command, is in control of the operation. But the United States, which is heavily engaged in Afghanistan and still has troops in Iraq, is working to transfer command to another member of the coalition. Adm. Gortney did not provide details on when that would happen or which country would take the lead.

The U.S. role would shift mostly to providing support with aerial refueling tankers and electronic warfare aircraft that can jam or monitor enemy communications — assets that other countries don’t have in their inventories.

As of Sunday, Adm. Gortney said, members of the coalition included the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, Belgium and Qatar. More are expected to join, but Adm. Gortney said those countries, and not the United States, would make that announcement.

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.