NATO vowed on Sunday to continue attacks in Libya on military targets, adding that it could not confirm that the son of strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi was killed in an airstrike in Tripoli over the weekend.
“All NATO’s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Qadhafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals,” the commander of NATO operations in Libya, Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, said in a statement.
“I am aware of unconfirmed media reports that some of Qadhafi’s family members may have been killed,” Bouchard added. “We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of the ongoing conflict.”
According to news reports, Saif el-Arab el-Qaddafi, the youngest son of the embattled Libyan leader, was killed in a NATO strike on Saturday, along with three of the ruler’s grandchildren. A Libyan government spokesman told news organizations that Muammar el-Qaddafi and his wife were in the house when it was attacked but were not harmed.
NATO said the attack was part of a deliberate strategy to disrupt and destroy command and control assets of the Libyan military, which have been attacking civilians.
But the attack has added fuel to the debate about whether Qaddafi should be considered a viable target. Speaking on Sunday morning talk shows, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., called for more aggressive military operations in Libya.
Graham said on Fox News Sunday that Qaddafi should be considered a “legitimate military target.”
“He’s the command and control source,” Graham said. “He is not the legitimate leader of Libya. He should be brought to justice or killed.”
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the U.S. government should “get its assets back into the air fight.”
McCain said he was not satisfied with NATO leadership in the conflict, adding that the United States has taken a “backseat role” to NATO member countries that “don’t have the assets that the United States of America does.”
Graham, too, said U.S. aircraft should get “back in the game,” adding that he would like to see “a pour-it-on approach to get this over with.”
But others on the talk shows were less hawkish. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said there are legal issues involved with trying to kill Qaddafi. “It is stated policy that we are not targeting an individual. But we can target the pillars of his power,” Conrad said.
Former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., also blasted the allied approach to the conflict, saying on CNN’s State of the Union that the mission “was not carefully enough thought out on the front end.”
“This is a zero-sum game, and what we are putting into Libya, we are not putting into very dangerous security threats to us, like Syria and Yemen,” said Harman, who left Congress in February to become president and chief executive of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She previously served as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.