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Coalition continues to defend Libyan civilians

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WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Coalition forces continue to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, striking air defense capabilities and regime forces that threaten Libyan civilians, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney said here March 24.

The director of the Joint Staff said during a Pentagon news conference that the coalition enforcing the United Nations resolution continues to grow in size and capabilities.

"Today there are nine other contributing nations, to include Qatar, and thousands of coalition military personnel involved in this effort," Gortney said. "They're deployed across Europe and on the Mediterranean, at bases ashore and on any of one of the 38 ships at sea."

The coalition continues to strike Moammar Gadhafi's integrated air defense capabilities, command-and-control facilities, logistics nodes and ammunition supplies, Gortney said.

"When and where regime forces threaten the lives of their own citizens, they will be attacked," he said. "When and where regime forces fly combat aircraft or fire at coalition aircraft, they will be attacked. And when and where regime forces attempt to break the embargo, they will be stopped."

Gortney said the coalition message to regime forces is simple: "stop fighting, stop killing your own people, stop obeying the orders of Colonel Gadhafi."

If they continue to attack their own people, the coalition will continue to hit them, he said.

In the 24 hours that ended at noon Eastern Standard Time, coalition ships and submarines launched another 14 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets ashore, the admiral said. The coalition flew a total of 130 sorties, 49 of which were designed to hit a designated target.

"Of those total sorties, roughly half were flown by pilots from partner nations," Gortney said.

Partner nations flew roughly 75 percent of combat air patrol missions.

"On Sunday, that figure was less than 10 percent," Gortney said.

More than 350 aircraft are involved in either enforcing the no-fly zone or protecting the civilian populace. Only slightly more than half belong to the United States, he said.

U.S. officials will hand Operation Odyssey Dawn over to a coalition command structure as early as this weekend, Gortney said.

The coalition flew a total of 130 sorties March 23. Sorties are not just warplanes carrying ordnance. They encompass the range of missions including air-to-air refuelers; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; airborne warning and control aircraft; combat air patrol aircraft; and strike aircraft.

This makes for a busy airspace over the Gulf of Sidra, and just de-conflicting the airspace requires finesse.

"That's why we have a coalition air component commander, to write that air tasking order," Gortney said.

The air tasking order lays out the type of missions needed, where they fly, the flow of aircraft to and from the airspace and to make sure "that they don't bump," he said.

Article by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service