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NATO official: Gadhafi a legitimate target

By Fran Townsend, CNN National Security Contributor
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NATO ramps up pressure on Libya
  • NATO spokeswoman says the alliance is not specifically targeting Gadhafi
  • U.N. resolution applies to Gadhafi in his capacity as head of military, official says
  • NATO last weekend employed helicopters against Gadhafi's military assets
  • Bombing began March 31 under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians during the fighting

(CNN) -- A U.N. resolution justifies the targeting of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, a senior NATO military official with operational knowledge of the Libya mission told CNN Thursday.

The resolution applies to Gadhafi because, as head of the military, he is part of the control and command structure and therefore a legitimate target, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to talk to the media.

Asked by CNN whether Gadhafi was being targeted, the NATO official declined to give a direct answer.

But NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu disputed the claim, saying the alliance was not specifically targeting Gadhafi.

"We are targeting critical military capabilities that could be used to attack civilians, including command and control centers that could be used to plan and organize such attacks," Lungescu said.

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"We are simply not targeting individuals," she said, but noted on CNN's American Morning that those military capabilities are the "nerve center of Gadhafi's kill chain. The war machine that has been consistently attacking, relentlessly attacking and systematically attacking civilians in Libya."

"We've seen just the other day in Misrata that sort of indiscriminate shelling is still continuing. So the Gadhafi regime still poses a threat to its own people."

NATO has been ramping up pressure on the regime, employing helicopters last weekend for the first time against Gadhafi's forces. Explosions are heard often in Tripoli, evidence of allied air strikes.

NATO intervened in March in the months-long civil war under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians as Gadhafi tried to crush the revolt against him.

The resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council authorized "all necessary measures," with the exception of a ground invasion, to protect civilians.

NATO's goal is to end attacks against civilians, the withdrawal of Gadhafi forces to barracks and bases, and full humanitarian access, Lungescu said.

"There is, of course, a political track and that is what has been going on with the Contact Group in Abu Dhabi," she said, referring to the Thursday meeting of world powers focused on the Libyan crisis.

The group bolstered financial and moral support for the Libyan opposition there and focused on sustaining pressure on Gadhafi.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday it is time to start planning for what to do in Libya after Gadhafi's departure "because Gadhafi's reign of terror is coming to an end."

But Gadhafi has refused to step down, going so far this week as to do a live audio broadcast as NATO warplanes bombed his Tripoli compound.

"We will not surrender," he said during Tuesday's broadcast.

NATO recently announced its decision to extend its mission in Libya by 90 days.

CNN's Eve Bower contributed to this report.

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