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Battle for Libya; NATO Press Conference on Operation in Libya

Aired August 23, 2011 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: An unexpected appearance in Tripoli from Moammar Gadhafi's son throws rebel claims of control into doubt.

Meanwhile, there are reports that NATO jets have been seen flying low over Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli.

It's 2:00 p.m. in Tripoli, 8:00 p.m. in Hong Kong.

You're watching CNN's continuing coverage of the battle for Tripoli.

I'm Kristie Lu Stout.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's compound is under attack, but it is not known whether he's inside or even whether he's in the country. Rebels claim they control most of Tripoli, but fierce battles continue to rage in pockets of the city. And the credibility of the rebel leaders, the Transitional National Council, could be called into question after two of Gadhafi's sons who it claimed were under lock and key were apparently free. Saif Gadhafi even spoke to reporters.

Meanwhile, a boat that was due to dock in Tripoli today to evacuate foreign nationals has been delayed because conditions are still too dangerous. And west of Tripoli, tracer fire and anti-aircraft fire are reported near Zawiya. And to the east, NATO says government forces fired a missile from Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte toward the rebel-held Misrata.

Now, Moammar Gadhafi is nowhere to be found, but one of his sons, Saif al- Islam Gadhafi, has suddenly reappeared overnight. He unexpectedly presented himself in front of the cameras outside a hotel in Tripoli, and our Matthew Chance was on the scene when it happened. He managed to snap this picture in the dark, and he also managed to grab a quick interview with Moammar Gadhafi's chosen successor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAIF ALL-ISLAM GADHAFI, SON OF MOAMMAR GADHAFI: -- to take them to Tripoli. And we broke the backbone of the rebels. So we gave them a hard time. So we are winning.

And now let's go. Let's go together to the hottest places in Tripoli. OK? It's very hot. You want to go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's OK.

GADHAFI: Go. Take the car and go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: Libyan rebels had claimed to have him under lock and key, but clearly he is free, he is able to move about. Saif Gadhafi was greeted by supporters, and then drove off in an armored land cruiser. And there has been no explanation from the Transitional National Council, the rebel leadership, that claimed that Saif Gadhafi was in custody.

Now, he said that he had been a trick by the rebels and that he had been traveling around Tripoli in his armored convoy the whole time speaking to journalists. He said government forces had lured rebels into a trap in the capital.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "They had let through the sea and through other means, gangs of people who are saboteurs. And you could see the people of Libya are standing and had to have broken the spine of those rats and gangsters yesterday and today."

"Today, we will go in the old spots of Tripoli, in Tripoli, and we will reassure the people that things are fine in Libya. Now we are going to go walk about in Tripoli and in the places where they said there has been -- they have actually seized from us."

Then he said, "The hell with the ICC." Someone is saying to him, "We want you. We want you." And then he laughed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: A defiant Saif Gadhafi speaking there.

Now, coalition air strikes have played a crucial role in this civil war, and right now NATO is speaking about its Libya operations in a live press conference. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

OANA LUNGESCU, NATO SPOKESWOMAN: Obviously, I can't prejudge the ambassador's discussion, but there is a general understanding that any future NATO engagement will be governed by three principles.

Firstly, the leading role in the post-Gadhafi period in supporting the Libyan people rests with the United Nations and the Contact Group. NATO will be in a supporting role.

Secondly, NATO will have no troops on the ground.

And thirdly, any possible NATO future role in Libya, in addition to the current one, under Operation Unified Protector, will have to be upon request.

Right from the start, the international community has come together to confront the Libyan crisis. NATO is playing a vital role in protecting the people of Libya. We will continue to coordinate with all relevant international actors to bring this crisis to the conclusion that the Libyan people want and deserve.

With that, I hand over to Colonel Lavoie in Naples.

Roland, the floor is yours.

COL. ROLAND LAVOIE, NATO SPOKESMAN: Thank you. Bonjour, and welcome to those who are joining us from Brussels and from Naples, of course. We have several people here on a warm August day, so this is (INAUDIBLE).

In the last few days, we have noticed significant changes, advances and momentum in anti-Gadhafi forces on multiple fronts in the strategic port city of Brega, in the surrounding of Misrata, in Zintan, and even in locations that were previously known as pro-Gadhafi resistance pockets such as Badar (ph).

There's no doubt that pro-Gadhafi forces are severely eroded, losing through defections or capture, key decision makers being expelled from strategic military positions. And most importantly, losing the ability to suppress Libya's population in a growing number of cities and villages.

The Tripoli uprising is without a doubt an historical milestone, although not yet the last chapter of the Libyan conflict. I would like to stress here that regardless of the latest developments, our military mission has not changed. Our mission remains protecting the population against the threat of attacks and to enforce the arms embargo, as well as a no-fly zone, as mandated by the United Nations.

Let there be no doubt that we will continue to monitor military units and key facilities, as we have since March. When we see any threatening moves towards the Libyan people, we will act in accordance with our U.N. mandate.

This has been and continues to be a 24/7 operation. As such, Operation Unified Protector remains in effect. The U.N. mandate remains valid, and we remain vigilant and determined to protect the people of Libya. We will keep up the pressure until there are no more attacks against civilian, Gadhafi's forces have withdrawn from their base, and full and unimpeded humanitarian access has been ensured.

But as a vast number of areas are still contested, we have to remain vigilant and continue to protect the civilian population. Most notably, Tripoli is still the site of numerous clashes between pro-and-anti-Gadhafi forces, and the tension is far from being over.

The situation is very, very dynamic and complex, even today, and as we are closely monitoring these developments hour after hour. Outside Tripoli, fighting and acts of aggression still occur in such areas such as Sirte and Sheba (ph), and also in Zawuha (ph), where civilians are uprising and being oppressed by indiscriminate shelling. No later than yesterday, a surface- to-surface missile was fired from the southwest of Sirte and landed in the vicinity of Misrata, apparently without any casualties.

NATO has also destroyed two notable rocket launchers that were firing from the western position toward the recently freed city of Brega.

In sum, our mission is not over yet. As Libyans are taking control of their country, what is left of the pro-Gadhafi military gives no sign that they will stop to refine (ph) the population. They are aggressively fighting to keep their control over the coastal access between Beshia (ph), which is 28 kilometers west of Brega, and Banuel (ph), which is southwest of Misrata, and to preserve freedom of movement from Tripoli to Saba (ph), where they have an aggressively strong fallback position.

We urge them to stop, to return to their bases, and to allow safe and (INAUDIBLE) humanitarian access to all the people in need of assistance. Until this is the case, we will carry on with our mission.

Thank you.

I could take a few questions.

LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, Roland.

Selev (ph).

QUESTION: Colonel Lavoie, (INAUDIBLE) from German television.

Can you give us an idea what the strategy of NATO is at the moment, whether you are bombing directly in Tripoli, for example, where Gadhafi is supposed to be now? Or what are the targets of NATO at the moment in Tripoli? This is my first question.

And if you allow a second one, how many soldiers do you still expect there in Libya to work for Gadhafi?

LAVOIE: First, regarding the strategy, our mission remains. We continue to protect the civilian population, to be vigilant, to enforce, of course, the no-fly zone and the arms embargo. We are doing it 24/7. We have done it since March, and we are continuing to do exactly the same thing.

Regarding the situation in Tripoli, I cannot comment on the current operations, of course. But I can tell you that we remain vigilant and we will take out and strike targets if they pose a threat against the civilian population. This is what we have done since the beginning and what we will continue to do with full determination.

With respect to the number of soldiers at the disposal of the Gadhafi regime, this is not something we could estimate with precision. What I could tell you, however, it's not much the number of soldiers that you have that counts, because many of them could be demobilized or returning to their countries if we talk about mercenaries.

What is important is the ability to fight. And I could tell you that since the beginning of this campaign, we have severely eroded the Gadhafi regime military capability to a point that their command and control capabilities are severely affected, that they have severely reduced logistical capabilities, mobility capabilities, because they don't control many access (ph) within the country. And they have a lot of senior leaders who have either defected or who have been captured.

So, basically, let's be clear here. Despite the noise that they could be making today in Tripoli, the Gadhafi regime has passed the tipping point and is going down. So, for us, it's more a matter of when than it is indeed the case.

STOUT: OK. Just then we heard from two spokespersons of NATO out of this live press event.

Just then, we heard from NATO's military spokesperson, who said that pro- Gadhafi forces have been severely eroded either by defection or capture. He called this an historic moment, and also added that the NATO military mission, that of shielding civilians under the U.N. mandate, has not changed.

Now, before him, we heard earlier from a NATO civilian spokesperson who underlined the three key factors for NATO in the event of a post-Gadhafi Libya. She said, number one, any future NATO engagement will be governed by the United Nations. Number two, NATO will have no troops on the ground. And lastly, "Number three, NATO assistance will have to be in request.

Let's go back to this press event to see what the military spokesman is saying.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

LAVOIE: -- who were basically firing in the direction of Brega, from the west of the city. So these weapons were actually firing when we engaged them.

Of course, in the urban city of Tripoli, the situation is far more complex. But we still do have the precision mission that could allow us to targets if again we do believe that there's an immediate threat against the civilian population.

We have done so in the past. We have taken some facilities, buildings, pieces of artillery, radar sites with very accurate precision. So we have the capability to do so, and believe me, we will do so if there's any threat against the population.

LUNGESCU: James (ph).

QUESTION: Yes. I'm Brooks James (ph). Two questions.

Unless Tripoli falls quickly, the rebels are going to need close air support. Has NATO categorically ruled out that option? Providing it to them, that is.

And secondly, the NATO nations are debating today and later on the renewal of a mandate. Do you foresee any need for the use of combat aircraft after mid-September?

Thank you.

LAVOIE: I will only talk about the first part, which is about close air support.

We do not provide close air support. And let's keep in mind that the situation in Tripoli is very complex.

We talk here about urban fighting. So, basically, being engaged directly beside combat teams would not -- would be -- not really be practical. What we're doing is more to look at what is -- I can't go into the details, but essentially, we're looking at what is going on the ground and what we could identify as a threat to the civilian population.

It might not be on the front line. It might be in the approaches of Tripoli if there's movement of vehicles. It could be if we identify the command and control node from where there's communications, giving orders or directions to conduct attacks.

These are examples. So, yes, we can be active in Tripoli. But, no, we do not provide further support to the anti-Gadhafi forces.

LUNGESCU: On your second question, Brooks (ph), this mission isn't over. The mandate stands. And NATO remains vigilant.

As you know, NATO extended, together with our operational partners, extended the mandate at the end of June for another 90 days. So the operation is still ongoing.

Clearly, we will continue to adapt in light of what's happening on the ground. The situation remains fluid on the ground. And any adaptation will be done following advice from the military authorities, as ever, and decisions will have to be taken by the North Atlantic Council, as ever. But at the moment, we continue to assess, to consult, and discuss both within NATO, with the military authorities, with our operational partners, and of course with all the other relevant international actors in this crisis.

BBC.

QUESTION: Thanks. It's Chris Morris (ph) from BBC. Two questions.

First of all, what advanced notice did NATO have of the rebel offensive against Tripoli? Presumably, it didn't come as a complete surprise to you.

And secondly, just referring back to the initial question, there's clearly a lot of outgoing fire at the moment from Gadhafi's bunker and compound in Tripoli, but that's mainly because it's under attack by rebel forces. Does that mean it constitutes a legitimate target for NATO?

LAVOIE: We have allied contacts on the ground, so we have a quite good understanding of the large-scale, if you wish, movements of troops on both sides, actually. Of course we are not coordinating what we do in a tactical fashion with any of the key players, so we do not certainly conduct tactical operations with the anti-Gadhafi forces. So I guess that touched your first question.

The second question, you were referring to what is going on -- could you repeat your second question, please?

QUESTION: Yes. Just in terms of the mandate, I mean, there is a lot of reports that suggest there's a lot of fire coming out of the bunker, the compound, in the middle of Tripoli, where Gadhafi may or may not be. And a lot of that fire may well be going towards civilians. But probably the primary reason for that fire coming out of the compound is because rebel forces are attacking it.

So I want to know whether you think that makes it a legitimate target for NATO action.

LAVOIE: For the moment, we have no signs that the anti-Gadhafi forces behave in a way that is not consistent with the U.N. resolution. Having said that, we revert to our mandate, which is to protect the civilian population. And we are maintaining a vigilance there, over the situation there.

I will not speculate on any future operations. What I could tell you is that we have received assurances from the National Transitional Council that they want to respect the letter and the law of international laws. And basically, what we are seeing on the ground essentially reflects that.

If I remind you of some of the atrocities that occurred in the last weeks and months, and no later than yesterday, when you had a scud missile being launched towards an urban area, I think it (INAUDIBLE) that this is the pro-Gadhafi forces here that are conducting a very aggressive repression of the population.

LUNGESCU: Roland, we can go to you in Naples for the next three questions, if there are any.

QUESTION: Everybody says that now the end of the regime actually is really close, near. But it might not be a matter (INAUDIBLE). So now that the situation has changed, what do you think? How long that you and NATO get to the end? So another month can be announced?

LAVOIE: I think we have to look at this from a global perspective. Like, probably, there's nobody -- and if somebody would claim so, I would probably challenge it -- there's nobody who could predict exactly when exactly the Gadhafi forces would finally drop their weapons.

They will do so probably when there would be a total fulfillment (ph) of their conflicts. So nobody could say exactly when.

What I could tell you in more general terms, however, is that, over the last few months, the Gadhafi regime has been eroded gradually. And initially, we could not necessarily see the difference it could make on their ability to conduct operations from a day-to-day fashion. However, over time, they have lost the capability to maintain their repression.

What we're seeing now is not a major offensive from military people. What we see is the population, doctors, teachers, farmers, citizens, who basically realize that, suddenly, control over the cities and villages, it is not fully controlled anymore, and that they have the opportunity to uprise. Which makes it quite encouraging, but also quite difficult to predict, because we don't talk about military formations advancing and doing a conquest here.

We talk about simple citizens who suddenly realize that they could take their destiny in their hands and do something about this. So I think there's no doubt it's coming. The exact when, we'll see.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the location of Gadhafi?

And second one, is it true that NATO already allowed ground troops to fight close to the rebels in Libya, in Tripoli?

LAVOIE: For the first question, where is Gadhafi, if you know, let me know. We don't know. I don't have a clue, and I'm not sure actually that it really does matter in the sense that the resolution of this situation will be political.

And I think everybody recognizes that Gadhafi will likely not be part of the solution. He is not a key player anymore. So, from that perspective, we don't know. But I don't think it really matters, although I recognize the symbolic value that it could have for his supporters.

In terms of -- I think ground troops in Libya, if you refer to NATO ground troops, this is not considered at all. Our mandate is very, very strict -- do an arms embargo, enforce a no-fly zone, and protect the civilian population. And this is what we'll continue to do.

QUESTION: Hi. Jeff Schogol (ph) with "Stars and Stripes."

Here's a quick hypothetical for NATO. You know, let's say that NATO surveillance over the skies somehow tracks Gadhafi fleeing from a location that you didn't think he was coming from. Under the mandate, does he get targeted at that point?

And kind of a second question in terms of the discussions being held today, is there any kind of timetable for a decision on -- or anything that will be announced by the NATO member states regarding the next steps, should the rebels consolidate their gains?

LAVOIE: I could take the first one. We do not target individuals, and Gadhafi is not a target for NATO.

If Gadhafi leaves the country, and left the process to help find a solution, frankly, we'll just be happy about that. He is not a target.

Of course (INAUDIBLE), we do target command and control facilities. So, if Gadhafi is located in a facility that commands and controls attacks, these are legitimate targets and we will strike.

I will not comment on the other part. That might be more for Brussels.

LUNGESCU: On the second question, obviously we will keep you all informed about any decisions today and in the future, as we have throughout this crisis, and as ever.

Next question.

QUESTION: Thank you, Colonel. Anna Bisarino (ph) from the Spanish news agency (INAUDIBLE).

The rebels claim that they control already 95 percent of Tripoli. I don't know if you can confirm this.

And, also, yesterday we could see some wires that were talking about tanks, presumably from the regime, of course, leaving the presidential palace. So I don't know if these threats for the population are still there on the ground. Or what can you identify as the main menace for the population now in Tripoli?

Thank you so much.

LAVOIE: Thank you for the question.

Giving a percentage is always a risky business, and I remind also that we're not on the ground to count assets. What I could tell you is that, globally, Tripoli is not under Gadhafi control anymore. I will not risk going into percentages, because there's still obvious pockets of fighting, and it links me to your second question.

The situation in Tripoli is still very serious and very dangerous, especially in the light of the attack, for example, that Gadhafi conducted no later than yesterday. In an urban area, snipers shelling missile launchers could do some sort of damage. It could not change the course of history or change the course of this campaign, of course, but it could be quite harmful for the population, which explains why we are keeping on with our mandate, by the way.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: In talking about the principals imagining a post-Gadhafi Libya, you talk about playing a supportive role. What would that supportive role involve?

LUNGESCU: There is clearly a leading role in Libya in the post-Gadhafi period, which has already started, and that is for the United Nations and the Contact Group. And we welcome the fact that both have announced meetings as a matter of urgency. We continue to hold staff-to-staff meetings, and to be involved in those consultations actively.

NATO, as I said, will have a supporting role if required. On request, NATO will consider how it can play a role in helping stabilize Libya further. The details remain to be discussed, as I said, with our military authorities, within NATO itself, with our contributing partners, and of course with the international organizations in the lead, and with the Libyan people, who are in the lead themselves in their transition.

QUESTION: Peter Spiegel with the Financial Times.

First, question for Naples. Colonel, just to follow up on the 95 percent question, putting percentages aside can you give us your assessment of how accurate the assessment from the transitional council have been, particularly given the recent incident with Saif al Islam where they claimed to have captured him and apparently he was not captured. Are you relying on their assessments and you find them credible?

And then one for Oana, if I could ask to drill down a little bit more on what's going to happen this afternoon. You mentioned in your opening remarks that they're going to review options for future. Can you just talk about tasking? Has the military committee actually been tasked to look at specific options for post-Gadhafi either peacekeeping stability operations -- I believe a defense ministerial with secretary general said they were waiting for guidance from the UN. But at their meeting this afternoon to talk about that implies there was some work being done in the military committee to either plan for or present options for post-Gadhafi stabilization. Can you address that? Thank you.

LAVOIE: I'm afraid you may not find my answer fully satisfactory, because NATO is not in the business of addressing military capabilities of belligerents in a conflict in which we are only a party with a limited role, which is basically to enforce the embargo, the no-fly zone, and protect the population.

Of course we have an overall appreciation of the situation. And it is quite clear we could even watch it on TV that the regime has lost its control over key strategic areas over the country.

But I would not venture into guessing percentages or commenting on the -- on other people's estimates.

LUNGESCU: Peter, first on Saif al Islam, a brief appearance at the dead of night doesn't indicate to me somebody who is in control of a country or capital or of anything much at all, really. It shows that the remnants of the regime are on the run. And it's up to the Libyan people to decide the fate of the three who have been indicted by the international criminal court once they're caught.

And as we've seen very recently in the Balkans those who are on the run from international justice may be on the run for some time, but they can't hide.

In terms of what will be decided this afternoon. As I said, and you won't expect me I think to prejudge the discussions of the ambassadors of the North Atlantic Council. Rest assured we'll let you know as soon as decisions are taken. And also rest assured that NATO will continue to make prudent planning for all contingencies as we have done from the beginning of this crisis. And as we do as a serious security organization. And I think we've all seen that prudent planning has been paying off with a very effective campaign.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) to prepare something for this in anticipation of the meeting?

LUNGESCU: The military authorities are always asked to provide their assessment on the regular basis to inform the decisions by the North Atlantic Council.

I think we had AP.

QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry. I was going to ask the same question about the military.

LUNGESCU: Reuters.

QUESTION: I had sort of a broader question. Could you assess over time to what extent this NATO coordinated in any way with the rebels in terms of surveillance, picking targets, any kind of coordination. And if there was any, how did that change over the last months, since March?

LAVOIE: I could take this one.

We do not coordinate with the opposition. We do our missions, which is basically to do the no-fly zone, the embargo, and the protection of the civilian population. Of course, we obtain information from our allied nations who have presence on the ground to know what is going on and to know where and when we should act to better accomplish our mandate, but we are not in direct contact with the anti-Gadhafi forces to coordinate attacks or to conduct maneuvers.

LUNGESCO: We can go back to Ruland (ph) if there are any more questions from Naples. If not, we've got quite a few still here in Brussels.

QUESTION: We have one.

QUESTION: Colonel could you just -- could you just clarify that last answer you said. You obtain information from allied nations with a presence on the ground who know what's going on. There's been some media reports stating that British and French special forces have been arming and training the rebels through -- you know, different parts of the conflict. Did that happen -- you know, was that outside of the, you know, NATO umbrella? Or can you kind of elaborate a bit more on what you meant by allied nations with a presence on the ground who knows what's going on.

LACOIE: You could understand that is spokesperson for NATO. I can't comment on other nation activities in Libya. But of course in general terms we do have eyes and ears in the country which is basically that intelligence is (inaudible) merged with the intelligence we can get from our own means also for this operation.

We don't have any more questions from Naples.

LUNGESCU: Devote (ph).

QUESTION: Stephanie (inaudible). My question goes to you Oana. I know you saying the situation is still very fluid, but talking about the next steps, there is kind of like waiting atmosphere that the UN comes out and there will be decision that UN will take over whatever will be necessary -- peacekeeping troops or whatever.

So my first question is, isn't it -- it's in Europe's nearest neighborhood. Wouldn't it be the duty of the Europeans and NATO to take over the responsibility here? And second, what do you expect from the regional players, from the African Union and the Arab League? Which initiative should they take now?

LUNGESCU: Stephanie (ph). We've seen the United Nations and the contact group together with other international regional organizations in the lead on the political front from the start in trying to bring this crisis to a solution. NATO is implementing a mandate from the United Nations security council resolutions and we will continue to do that until all attacks and threats of attacks against civilians have stopped until all of Gadhafi's forces have withdrawn to base and until there is full and free humanitarian access as NATO and our partners have decided in Berlin in April. These are the three clear military goals.

But we've also made clear that in the post-Gadhafi period NATO will take a supporting role if required. It is for the United Nations and the contact group to take the lead in conducting any civilization operations, in taking decisions and as to how to support the people of Libya build a stable and secure future.

NATO is willing to help in a supporting role if requested and if needed. So we've made clear also that there will be no NATO troops on the ground in the future as there are no NATO troops on the ground right now.

And as you've seen in the past I trust, and we've already seen, that all of the international actors involved in this crisis have stepped up to the plate and played their full role in bringing this crisis to a solution that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.

We had a question over there.

QUESTION: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

QUESTION: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END COVERAGE)

STOUT: OK, we're just going to break away for just a moment, but we will keep tabs on this ongoing press event of NATO spokesman speaking from both Naples and Brussles. The NATO military spokesman featured here live is speaking from Naples. And earlier he said, quote, Gadhafi is not the target, but we do target command and control. He was referring to the ongoing NATO mission in Libya saying that the mission still stands and the mission is to provide cover for civilians.

We also heard from NATO spokesperson elsewhere who said that the mission is ongoing. And that was the NATO spokesperson in Brussels. We will continue to monitor this event for you. Unfortunately we don't have live translation for you of the question in French just now, or the answer.

But they are speaking again in English. Let's go back.

(BEGIN COVERAGE)

QUESTION: NATO to step up its bombing of the Gadhafi -- the main Gadhafi complex. He says that it would be symbolically important to show that there is no sanctuary. Given that you're saying it's not even really important where Gadhafi is, do you disagree that it would be important to destroy that complex?

And also, for Oana, given that the TNC has actually been here and been recognized as the partner, the negotiator for the rebels, why is it that there is still no coordination?

LAVOIE: With respect to the complex, we had strikes against that complex. And I'm not commenting about present or future operations. But we will continue to apply to -- with our missions. And we will do strikes, conduct strikes wherever necessary to protect the population in Libya.

So I won't speak about the future, but it has to be very clear we will strike at every threat that the could-be present in Libya against the civilian population.

QUESTION: The president (ph) saying it would be symbolically important. You disagree. You're saying if it's not tactically important, you don't find it necessary to intensify the bombing?

LAVOIE: As a matter of policy I will never speculate about current or future operations or value of a military target. And if that location had no importance, we wouldn't have struck it in the past. So this is of course not purely symbolic. When I was talking about the symbolism, I was talking about Gadhafi himself. And -- so I would say stay tuned.

LUNGESCU: Well, the National Transitional Council clearly we are in -- we consult with them. We are in touch with them. The mandate of this mission remains the same. The mandate is clear. And that is the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas, the no-fly zone, and the arms embargo.

Over there.

QUESTION: You said that any future role of NATO in Libya would have to be on request. Would you specify what request -- Libyan or international?

And secondly, if you say that there will be NATO boots on the ground in Libya, how do you imagine the will of NATO, then, in a post-conflict country when there is no fighting with no boots on the ground? Thank you.

LUNGESCU: Could you please introduce yourself.

QUESTION: (inaudible) Bulgaria.

LUNGESCU: Those are very good questions. And I know you're trying to get me to say a bit more. And I will not prejudge the discussions of the ambassadors in the North Atlantic Council. Know that.

(END COVERAGE)

STOUT: All right. We have just heard from NATO an update on Operation Unified Protector, NATO's mission in Libya, we heard from NATO's military spokesperson as well as it's -- the civilian spokesperson Oana Lungescu who has been answering questions. Earlier she said, quote, the mission is not over. The mandate stands.

And for more now, Phil Black joins us now from CNN London. Phil, just now NATO reaffirmed its mission, which is primarily to protect civilians. Now that mission in Libya has long been disputed. What are your thoughts on the NATO mission, especially at this critical moment of the campaign and the key takeaways from that NATO press conference?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, you heard those NATO spokespeople. They're reaffirming very much what the leaders of member states have been saying ever since the battle for Tripoli began, and that is for the moment nothing changes, the mission stands. As you say, the mandate still exists because they say there is still fighting, there is still the risk to civilians on the ground. And so it is still their job to do their best to protect them.

They say that is not just within Tripoli itself. They said there is still fighting outside Tripoli. There is still indiscriminate shelling, which they claim is still targeting civilians.

Within Tripoli, what are they doing? Well, we heard that they say they will continue to strike at targets that they believe do pose a risk to civilians. And again, though pretty vague, following their policy of not talking very specifically about these things. But he gave a little bit away when he said these may not be front line targets, they could be command and control facilities. They could be vehicle movements on the outskirts of the city. So it's pretty broad.

But they were asked specifically whether or not Gadhafi was a legitimate target to which the reply was that NATO does not target individuals, but there is something of a caveat there because it says it does target command and control facilities. And of course it is always possible that Gadhafi would be within or close to one of those targeted facilities -- Kristie.

STOUT: You know, we heard the update of the ongoing mission which they say hasn't changed for NATO in Libya. We also heard a three point plan for NATO in the event of a post-Gadhafi Libya. And one of them is, quote, no NATO troops on the ground. And Phil I found that a little bit surprising given all the talk and concerns about a security vacuum in the event of Gadhafi's fall.

BLACK: This is a point that NATO has emphasized from the very beginning, throughout the military phase of this operation. And it is continuing to do so. And that is that for the moment and in the future, they say they will not be any NATO troops on the ground. They say they do not coordinate closely with members of the rebel teams there on the ground.

Having said that, there was some room for interpretation there, because they talked about some member states having a presence there. What that means precisely, they weren't clear, but presumably not a military presence so that is why they are able to make that distinction. But NATO says they were certainly ready to stand by, help and provide any sort of supportive role if it was needed and if it was asked for.

But for the moment they insist no NATO troops there now. And there are no plans to put any there in the future.

STOUT: All right. Phil Black joining us live from London. Thank you very much indeed for your insight and analysis there. You're watching NEWS STREAM. We'll give you more coverage of what is happening right now in Libya after the break.

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STOUT: Welcome back.

Now could it be the last stand? Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's compound reportedly is under fierce attack. And in the last hour we have heard reports of heavy gunfire and explosions and NATO planes flying low over the facility. But Gadhafi's whereabouts remain unknown.

Now rebels say they control most of Tripoli, but their credibility has been eroded after two of Gadhafi's sons turned up on Tripoli. Now rebels have said they were in their custody. And One, Saif al Islam Gadhafi spoke to CNN and claimed that government forces had broken the back of the rebels.

Now on Monday, the Libyan opposition said its fighters have captured Moammar Gadhafi's son and potential heir Saif al Islam Gadhafi, but he later made a defiant public appearance. Our Jim Clancy spoke with Fred Pleitgen to try to clear up the confusion about all these differing reports.

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FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it certainly appears that they don't, Jim. We've been trying to get in touch with the Transitional National Council, but so far they're not making any statements about whether or not or why they put out these -- this confirmation that in fact Saif al Islam Gadhafi had been captured by their forces. And at one point, if you recall Jim, they were even saying that they were in contact with the international criminal court in The Hague and negotiating whether or not Saif al Islam would be brought to that court.

Now the international criminal court is coming out and telling CNN that apparently they never received any sort of confirmation that in fact Saif al Islam had been capture.

And of course one of the things that this -- they shed the light on, but certainly called into question, is to what extent the Transitional National Council, which is supposed to be heading this entire rebel operation in Libya, is really informed as to what is going on in the Libyan capital, in Tripoli, and to what extent it's actually in control of those who are fighting in the Libyan capital.

We know that the rebels really are a factitious group, a group that has many different factions that really identify more with their own tribe, with their own neighborhoods, with their own small little towns rather than with the Transitional National Council. Nevertheless, it is the TNC that is supposed to take control of Tripoli.

And they have said that they will move their entire headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli once the situation becomes safe enough, but at this point in time, it does of course call into question whether or not the leaders of the Transitional National Council are, in fact, capable of managing the transition to democracy which they say they want to foster in the coming months before then handing over power to an elected government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: Now that was Fred Pleitgen reporting from Benghazi. We have a number of reporters across Libya. We are in fact working to get you a live report from inside Tripoli.

That and more after the break.

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STOUT: Welcome back.

Now there is a lot of uncertainty in Tripoli over who controls what and that includes key facilities like the international airport. Now very heavy fighting has been reported north of the airport in the past hour. And Arwa Damon is there right now. She joins us live with the latest. And Arwa who is in control of the airport? And is it in operation?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Kristie, the airport is not in operation and has not been ever since that NATO no-fly zone went into effect. The rebels are currently in control of the Tripoli International Airport is where we are located. There has, however, been some intense fighting around. You were hearing gunfire bursts. You were hearing explosions in the distance. The rebels who are based here are telling us that not only are they trying to push north to the capital Tripoli (inaudible), because it's a straight (inaudible) they say Gadhafi's forces are trying to swing around and attack the airport from the south, trying to regain control of this critical location.

Because not only (inaudible) compound, Gadhafi's compound, but it also along that highway you also have two main military installations. You have a major refueling point, you also have a significant fuel storage facilities, two key locations that Gadhafi's forces are not going to want to see fall into rebel hands.

Additionally to the east you have two military bases. So the fighting has been quite intense in this area. The commanders here telling us, though, also of the renewed assault on the Baganazizi (ph) compound. They say that they've deployed some of their fighters, two of them part of the same unit. They came up from Zintan. But they say that this specific location they're going to be trying to proceed forward with caution, because they fully anticipate that the road ahead is going to be very heavily protected -- Kristie.

STOUT: All right. So pro-Gadhafi forces are trying to regain control of the airport and other key sites in Tripoli.

We just heard from NATO that, quote, Tripoli is not under Gadhafi control anymore. Is that your sense from your position?

DAMON: Well, it's very difficult to determine that from this particular position that we are in. What the rebel fighters have been telling us is that they believe that they control most of the western part of the city, but they were also telling us that after that initial rush, that initial push into Tripoli that took place on Saturday, they in fact were driven back from some of their positions as Gadhafi's forces they would regroup and launched various counter attacks.

Specifically speaking of the situation from this particular location, the Tripoli airport, it's around 22 kilometers to the south of the Baganazizi (ph) compound. The (inaudible) Gadhafi's forces to the east and to the north are still in control of it. That is why there is all this heavy fighting happening both as the rebels try to push to the north and the east and as Gadhafi's forces try to continue to beat them back.

But they do say that they have control of most parts of the city, although the degree of that control remains a question. Some areas they say (inaudible)

STOUT: All right. Arwa Damon, we just lost you at the end there, but we heard you loud and clear saying that the rebels are in control for most -- of most parts of Tripoli, but the question is how long can they keep that control.

That was Arwa Damon joining us on the line live from Tripoli.

That is NEWS STREAM, but the news continues at CNN. And we leave you with these images from inside Tripoli this Tuesday.

"WORLD BUSINESS TODAY" is next.

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