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Col. Gadhafi’s power is confined to Tripoli and Sirte, where his Gadhadhfa tribe remains deeply loyal.

Meanwhile, aerial bombardments of Brega and Ajdabiya have escalated calls from some Libyans for a no-fly zone over their country.

The Libyan air force has 374 combat aircraft and 18,000 people in the entire force and flies about a third of the hours necessary for minimum proficiency.

“A good part of the force is not operational, which probably explains why a lot of the so-called air attacks have really been by anti-tank helicopters,” Mr. Cordesman said.

Mr. Sahad said that with a no-fly zone over Libya, Col. Gadhafi would not be able to use his air force.

“Without his planes, the cities in the east would be able to secure their areas and march toward Tripoli,” he said.

But some, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, have cautioned that imposing a no-fly zone would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Much of the Libyan forces’ equipment dates back to the Cold War era, “but you can’t ignore it,” said Mr. Cordesman.

The Libyan military has 216 major surface-to-air missile-fired units, including about 72 SA-6s and SA-8s, 108 to 144 SA-2s, and some SA-5s and SA-3s.

“Could you freely fly in this kind of environment without suppressing the air defense, which means attacking it? No you couldn’t,” Mr. Cordesman said.

Gen. James Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate panel last week that imposing a no-fly zone would be a military operation.

“It wouldn’t be just telling people not to fly airplanes,” he said.