There were conflicting reports about whether the allies had attacked loyalist forces in Ajdabiya. While planes had been heard overhead, the rebel fighters said there appeared to have been no attack on the pro-Qaddafi forces holding the entrance to Ajdabiya on the coastal highway leading north to Benghazi. Ajdabiya is a strategically important town that has been much fought over, straddling an important highway junction and acting as a chokepoint for forces trying to advance in either direction.
The retreat from Ajdabiya appeared to have thrown the rebels into deep disarray, with one commander at the checkpoint trying to marshal the opposition forces, using a barely functioning megaphone, but few of the fighters heeding his exhortations.
In the western city of Misurata, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi were still at large and were using civilians from nearby towns as human shields, Reuters reported, but that could not be immediately confirmed.
As it gained force, the allied air campaign met a rising tide of criticism from around the world, notably from Russia and China, which abstained from voting on the United Nations resolution. “In general, it reminds me of a medieval call for a crusade,” Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Monday, after criticizing the allies on Sunday for “indiscriminate use of force.”
As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates began a visit to Russia, Mr. Putin called the resolution “deficient and flawed,” saying, “It allows everyone to undertake any actions in relation to a sovereign government.”
A commentary in China’s state-run People’s Daily newspaper said that the Western actions violated international law and courted unforeseen disaster. “It should be seen that every time military means are used to address crises, that is a blow to the United Nations Charter and the rules of international relations,” the commentary said.
NATO members met Monday in Brussels to try to work out a common position that would allow the organization to participate in the no-fly zone. That would require the approval of all its members, including Turkey, which has opposed any intervention in North Africa. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, denied that his country was against NATO participation in the operation, saying only that he wanted assurances that it would be brief and not end in an occupation.
NATO approved on Sunday plans to help enforce a United Nations arms embargo against Libya, but so far it has not been able to agree on how to proceed on either that or the no-fly zone.
On Sunday, a vital Arab participant in the agreement expressed unhappiness with the way the strikes were unfolding. The secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, told Egyptian state media that he was calling for an emergency league meeting to discuss the situation in the Arab world, and particularly to discuss the killing of civilians in allied attacks in Libya.
But on Monday, Mr. Moussa spoke of the allied actions in more measured tones, saying, “We respect the Security Council’s resolution and we have no conflict with the resolution, especially as it confirms that there is no invasion or occupation of Libyan territory.”
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain defended the allied attacks before Parliament, saying they had averted “a bloody massacre in Benghazi.”
As the assault unfolded late Sunday, an explosion thundered from Colonel Qaddafi’s personal compound in Tripoli, and a column of smoke rose above it, suggesting that the allied forces may have struck either his residence there or the nearby barracks of his personal guards. Unnamed Western officials were quoted in various news reports as saying that the building was a military command and control center.
Journalists taken by the Qaddafi government to visit the site shortly after the blast said they saw a bomb-damaged building that appeared to be an administrative center rather than a military barracks or a Qaddafi residence, although the exact nature of the facility could not be definitively confirmed. No casualties were reported, though the government spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, called it “a barbaric bombing.”
Asked about the explosion, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney said in a Washington news conference that the United States was not trying to kill the Libyan leader. “At this particular point I can guarantee that he’s not on a targeting list,” he said, saying that the United States military was working to weaken his military capacity rather than remove him.