The Libyan dictator is thought to still be somewhere near Tripoli, while U.S., British and French warplanes bombard his military installations in accordance with a U.N. resolution that calls for a no-fly zone and halt to attacks on civilians. One of those airstrikes hit Gadhafi's sprawling Bab al-Aziziya compound in the capital late Sunday, demolishing most of a three-story building. The Libyan leader was not believed to be inside, and there's no word on casualties.
The partially demolished Bab al-Aziziya compound is the same place where an American bomb hit in 1986. That was part of what Washington dubbed Operation El Dorado Canyon -- airstrikes in response to the bombing of a Berlin disco earlier that year, which killed three American military personnel and a Turkish civilian, and wounded more than 230 people. Libya was blamed for the disco attack, after congratulatory messages were intercepted at the Libyan Embassy in East Germany.
After the 1986 airstrike, Gadhafi left a damaged building in Bab al-Aziziya in disrepair for 25 years, as a symbol of national defiance against the West. As recently as this past weekend, he invited journalists to visit the compound and interview his supporters there. Thousands of seemingly ordinary Libyans gathered at the compound on Saturday, though it's unclear how many of them stayed there overnight, and whether they could have still been there when missiles hit hours later.
Officials from the U.S. military and their French and British partners have said their aim is to protect Libyan civilians, rather than to target Gadhafi himself. But the Libyan leader and his regime have sought to portray the Western airstrikes as killing civilians. The Libyan government has announced death tolls after ever strike, but the numbers couldn't be independently verified.
"What [pro-Gadhafi officials] are trying to do is weaken the coalition and resolve, particularly that of the Arab states, by trying to make it appear there are civilian deaths, when in reality there probably are not," Gurdon said. "The bodies of civilians who have been killed by the regime over the past few weeks have been stored and are now being taken to possible sites where that the allies will attack. When they attack, they can say, 'Look, there are 20 civilians here who were killed.' But in some cases, these people will have been dead already."
On Sunday, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the idea of targeting Gadhafi directly could "potentially be a possibility," the BBC reported. But Western officials said today that the Libyan leader himself was not the target of Sunday's strike on his compound.
"I doubt that they are targeting him. They wouldn't be upset if they managed to get him, but I don't think that's the intention," Gurdon said. "I think they're trying to make it impossible for the regime to wage war on the people -- that this will eventually lead to defections and a revolt against him, and some form of resolution. I don't think any Western leader can sanction the assassination of another leader."
In 2008, Gadhafi, who already went by the title "Brother Leader" inside Libya, awarded himself the new title "King of Kings of Africa," and orchestrated a coronation ceremony a year later in Ethiopia. But despite his vast investments of Libyan oil wealth in projects across Africa, such eccentric behavior has earned him few friends.
Gadhafi is unlikely to have many invitations to go into exile in neighboring African or Middle Eastern countries. While Tunisia's deposed president fled into exile earlier this year in Saudi Arabia, the Arab League actually supported the U.N. resolution against Gadhafi last week.