MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) - The Obama administration on Tuesday urged Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to concede defeat and tell his loyalists to stop fighting, as rebels overran his compound in Tripoli and his power appeared to evaporate. The call came as U.S. officials said they hoped to free up as much as $1.5 billion in frozen Gadhafi regime assets to give to the opposition.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that while the situation remained uncertain Gadhafi foes had made "significant gains." He hoped that NATO operation in Libya, which he said had been an important part of the opposition's success, would soon be ending.
"Hopefully that is a mission that is beginning to draw to a close," Panetta told a packed auditorium at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., near his hometown of Carmel. "The opposition forces have obviously made significant gains, but the situation obviously remains very fluid."
Panetta praised the NATO mission to protect Libyan civilians for having contributed to the rebels' progress.
"We have protected civilians, we've established a no fly zone and we have worked with our NATO partners in going after a kind of important support and assistance that was, I think, part of the key in helping opposition forces there ultimately be able to succeed," he said.
U.S. defense officials said that NATO forces will continue to strike targets of opportunity, if given the needed information and intelligence that regime forces are present. But they are exercising caution to prevent any civilian casualties.