WASHINGTON — The United States used low-flying combat aircraft against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's ground troops, the Pentagon said Monday, but denied it was directly supporting the rebels.
"We have employed A-10s and AC-130s over the weekend," US Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the US military's Joint Staff, told reporters, without giving specifics about targets.
The A-10 is an aircraft designed for close air support, especially against tanks and armored vehicles. The AC-130 "Spooky" is a transport aircraft modified for close combat. Among its guns is a 105mm cannon.
Unlike the long-range guided missile attacks that have targeted command centers and anti-aircraft defenses, these aircraft are designed for close-range assaults against ground troops.
"We still have not received a single confirmed report of civilian casualties caused by the coalition," Gortney said.
The rebel offensive has benefited greatly from the coalition's strikes against Kadhafi's forces in recent days.
On Sunday, the rebels had seized Bin Jawad after retaking the key oil town of Ras Lanuf as they advanced with the support of coalition air strikes on Kadhafi's forces.
The head of the rebels' National Transitional Council even suggested Kadhafi will go on trial in Libya "after victory" by rebel forces.
"Clearly, they're achieving a benefit from the actions that we're taking," Gortney said.
But Gortney said the US actions are only in support of the UN-backed resolutions to protect Libyan civilians.
"We're not in direct support of the opposition, that's not part of our mandate and we're not coordinating with the opposition," he said.
He added that they "would like a much better understanding of the opposition, we don't have it."
Gortney cautioned against over-confidence on the part of rebels.
"Clearly the opposition is not well-organized and is not a very robust organization, that's obvious, so any gain that they make is tenuous based on that," he said.
And US military officials said forces loyal to Kadhafi "are prepared to dig in" in Sirte, Gortney said. "Likewise in Zintan, where we assess the regime is prepared to reinforce existing positions."
Western military officials repeatedly say that their objective is not to topple Kadhafi but at the same time their political leaders call for Kadhafi's "immediate" departure.
NATO plans to take command of enforcing the no-fly zone but for now the United States continues to coordinate coalition strikes.
Coalition aircraft have carried out 1,600 missions since March 19, with US aircraft involved in 60 percent of the runs.
Two-thirds of the 178 missions in the past day were "strikes," and most would be from now on, Gortney said.
The United States plans to pull back into a supporting role. Currently, the US military conducts all of the electronic warfare -- blocking enemy communications -- and 75 percent of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Six of the 199 Tomahawk missiles fired -- mostly in the early days of the operation -- targeted the headquarters of the Libyan army's 32nd brigade, the most heavily armed of Kadhafi's forces.
The USS Providence, one of three US submarines that had been firing Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya, has now left the area, Gortney said.
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