Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that Libyan military command centers "wherever we find them" are legitimate targets for U.S. and NATO air attack, suggesting that strongman Moammar Gadhafi himself is increasingly in danger.
NATO planes are "not targeting him specifically" but will continue to take aim at his command centers, Gates said.
That distinction is exceedingly thin, given that Gadhafi is commander in chief of government forces using brute force against civilians seeking to overthrow him. On Monday, NATO bombs turned sections of his Tripoli headquarters into smoldering ruins.
Gates and British Defense Minister Liam Fox, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon after a meeting that included Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated that facilities from which Libyan leaders command their forces will remain at risk.
"We consider them legitimate targets," Gates said.
Although Gates said such targets have been considered legitimate from the beginning of the NATO-led air campaign more than one month ago, the initial bombing focused on Gadhafi's air defenses, supply depots and maneuvering ground forces -- particularly those in the east that have clashed repeatedly with rebel forces and those in the western port city of Misrata.
Now NATO is attempting to ratchet up pressure on Gadhafi and those in his inner circle by holding at risk his command centers as well as related structures that enable the regime to exercise power. A separate airstrike Monday in Tripoli hit Libyan TV and temporarily knocked it off the air.
This appears to represent an evolution of the air campaign, which is adjusting its targeting priorities as Libyan forces have adapted to weeks of airstrikes on ground forces, the imposition of a no-fly zone and persistent rebel assaults.
Libyan government forces, meanwhile, bombarded the port of Misrata on Tuesday in a nonstop assault on the sole lifeline of a battered population.
While forces loyal to Gadhafi pulled out of the city over the weekend under pressure from NATO airstrikes, they have since unleashed a withering rocket and mortar barrage on Misrata that has killed dozens.