Libya's air force "no longer exists as a fighting force" following devastating air strikes by international coalition forces, a British military officer has claimed.
The claim came as fierce fighting continued on the ground on Wednesday as forces loyal to embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi continued their offensive against anti-government rebels across the north African state.
Addressing journalists at an air base in southern Italy, from which Royal Air Force (RAF) warplanes have been operating, Air Vice Marshall Greg Bagwell said international coalition forces could operate with impunity over Libya.
"Effectively, [Libya's] air force no longer exists as a fighting force," said Bagwell. "And his [Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's] integrated air defence system and command and control networks are severely degraded to the point that we can operate over his airspace with impunity," he said.
Bagwell said US, French and British forces involved in the strikes that began on Saturday had "taken away (Gaddafi's) eyes and ears" and "destroyed the majority of his air force".
Bagwell said coalition forces were also targeting Gaddafi's ground forces.
"We have the Libyan ground forces under constant observation and we attack them whenever they threaten or attack civilians or population centres," he said.
The US military confirmed this on Wednesday, saying ground troops loyal to Gaddafi who are threatening rebel-held cities are now being targeted by coalition airstrikes.
"We are putting pressure on Gaddafi's ground forces that are threatening cities," Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber, US chief of staff for the Libya mission, said.
He also said that the coalition no-fly zone now stretches across all of coastal Libya.
Hueber said that Gaddafi's military remains in violation of a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to attacks on civilians, with fighting reported in several cities.
Enforcement of the no-fly zone has so far been carried out primarily by French, American and British forces but confusion over the command structure for the operation continued on Wednesday as NATO member states failed to agree on a role for the military alliance after a third day of talks.
Fierce fighting continues
Undaunted by air strikes launched by coalition warplanes aimed at enforcing a no-fly zone, pro-Gaddafi forces pressed ahead with their assaults on the towns of Misurata, Ajdabiya and Zintan in the past 24 hours.
Pro-democracy fighters ranged against Gaddafi are finding the going tough.
Read the full report @ http://bit.ly/fgHy2Y on Al Jazeera