While NATO has escalated its strikes on Muammar Qaddafi's compound and command-and-control hubs in Tripoli, it has yet to admit that Qaddafi himself is a target, though reports suggest that the Libyan leader has become a fugitive in his own capital nonetheless. Late on Thursday, however, an unnamed "senior NATO military official" told CNN that Qaddafi is a legitimate target because, as head of the Libyan military, he's in charge of the campaign to attack civilians, whom NATO is authorized by a U.N. resolution to protect by "all necessary measures" except a ground invasion. The official wouldn't say whether Qaddafi is actually being targeted, and a NATO spokeswoman told CNN that the alliance was only targeting "critical military capabilities that could be used to attack civilians," not individuals. The Libyan military, for its part, may now be stepping up its campaign against NATO. Libyan state television is reporting that Libyan forces shot down a NATO helicopter in the sea off the coast of the town of Zlitan today, according to Reuters, in what a military spokesman claims is the third such attack. NATO says it has no evidence to suggest the report is true.
Whether NATO's true target is military nerve centers or individuals or both, some are still criticizing NATO for its inability to break the stalemate between Qaddafi's forces and the rebels. In his final policy speech as Secretary of Defense on Friday, Robert Gates noted, rather harshly, that "the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference." He said the alliance, which was formed in 1949 at the beginning of the Cold War, faced a "dim, if not dismal" future," adding that future U.S. political leaders "may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost," according to the AP.