WASHINGTON — An American F-15E fighter jet crashed in Libya overnight and one crew member has been recovered while the other is “in the process of recovery,” according to a spokesman for the American military’s Africa Command and a British reporter who saw the wreckage. The crash was likely caused by mechanical failure and not hostile fire, the spokesman, Vince Crawley, told Reuters. Details of the incident remained sparse. The crash was the first known setback for the international coalition attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in three days of strikes authorized by the United Nations Security Council.
The military campaign to destroy air defenses and establish a no-fly zone over Libya has nearly accomplished its initial objectives, and the United States is moving swiftly to hand command to allies in Europe, American officials said on Monday, but fighting continued on Tuesday as reports began to emerge of the crash of the American warplane.
“Just found a crashed U.S. warplane in a field. believe a mechanical failure brought it down,” a correspondent for Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, Rob Crilly, said in a message on Twitter. “Came down late last night. Crew believed safe.”
The American military did not say where the plane crashed, but the British newspaper said on its Web site that it had landed in a field near Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in the east of the country. A photograph showed the charred debris of the warplane surrounded by onlookers.
American, British and French warplanes have been flying missions since Saturday, stalling a ground attack by pro-Qaddafi forces in the east and hitting targets including air defenses, an airfield and part of Colonel Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.
But the firepower of more than 130 Tomahawk cruise missiles and attacks by allied warplanes have not yet succeeded in accomplishing the more ambitious demands by the United States — repeated by President Obama in a letter to Congress on Monday — that Colonel Qaddafi withdraw his forces from embattled cities and cease all attacks against civilians.
Ahmed Khalifa, a rebel spokesman in Benghazi, said on Tuesday that there was still heavy fighting in the western rebel-held cities of Misurata and Zintan. Government forces firing on Misrurata killed 40 people and wounded 189, he said, adding that rebel fighters were "combing" the city for Colonel Qaddafi’s troops. Mr. Khalifa said that 4,000 Egyptian migrants were stuck in the city, trying to get home.
Government shelling of Zintan had demolished a mosque, Mr. Khalifa said, adding that Colonel Qaddafi’s talk of a cease-fire was "meaningless." He said that the allied airstrikes "did in fact prevent further death and destruction." "The front lines are still very fluid," he said, saying there was no movement in the standoff between rebel fighters and Qaddafi forces in the eastern city Ajdabiya.
The fighting continued in defiance of United Nations resolutions authorizing the allied strikes and demanding an immediate cease-fire by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces and an end to attacks on civilians.
But the campaign against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces drew fresh condemnation on Tuesday as China called for an immediate cease-fire, India said there should be no foreign presence in Libya and Brazil urged a cease-fire and “the start of dialogue.” India and Brazil joined Russia, China and Germany in abstaining from the United Nations vote last week that authorized the intervention.
State television in Libya said on Tuesday there had been more attacks by what it called the “crusader enemy,” Reuters reported, but the broadcaster struck a defiant tone. “These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people,” state television said.
Pentagon officials are eager to extract the United States from a third armed conflict in a Muslim country as quickly as possible. But confusion broke out on Monday among the allies in Europe over who exactly would carry the military operation forward once the United States stepped back, and from where.
In Washington, lawmakers from both parties argued that Mr. Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority by authorizing the military’s participation without Congressional approval. The president said in a letter to Congress that he had the power to authorize the strikes, which would be limited in duration and scope, and that preventing a humanitarian disaster in Libya was in the national interest.
At the United Nations, the Security Council rejected a request from Libya for a meeting to discuss the situation.
Qaddafi forces were holding out against the allied military campaign to break their grip. Rebel fighters trying to retake the eastern town of Ajdabiya said their advance was halted on Monday by tank and rocket fire from government loyalists still controlling entrances to the city. Dozens of fighters fell back to a checkpoint about 25 miles north of Ajdabiya, in Zueitina.
By the early afternoon, the fighters said at least eight of their confederates had been killed in the day’s fighting, including four who were killed when a tank shell struck their pickup truck.
In the western city of Misurata, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi were still at large and were using civilians as human shields, Reuters reported, but that could not be immediately confirmed.