US reducing firepower aimed at Gadhafi

In a sign of U.S. confidence that the weeklong assault on Libya has tamed Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses, the Pentagon has reduced the amount of naval firepower arrayed against him.

The move, not yet publicly announced, reinforces the White House message of a diminishing U.S. role — a central point in President Barack Obama’s national address at 6:30 p.m. today on Libya. The White House booked Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on three Sunday news shows to promote the administration’s case ahead of the speech.

Yet Gates, asked whether the military operation might be over by year’s end, said, “I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that.”

At least one of the five Navy ships and submarines that have launched dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan targets from positions in the Mediterranean Sea has left the area, three defense officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive military movements.

That still leaves what officials believe is sufficient naval firepower off Libya’s coast, and it coincides with NATO’s decision Sunday to take over command and control of the entire Libya operation. Aided by international air power, Libyan rebels were reported to have made important gains by capturing two oil complexes along the coast.

NATO to assume command

of Libya air operations

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