WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and its NATO allies are stepping up military operations against Muammar Gaddafi, hoping for a final "squeeze" to drive him from power -- or possibly kill him -- a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
The comments, made on condition of anonymity, follow days of some of the heaviest bombing of the three-month-old war and indicated a shift in Washington, which has previously spoken of a stalemate and has fought shy of making Gaddafi a target.
The United States is still officially abiding by a U.N. mandate which formally limits NATO to protecting civilians.
The allies have said repeatedly that the 69-year-old leader must make way for a new, democratic administration but have insisted that killing him is not the object of their bombing.
The U.S. official said, however, that "no one would shed a tear" if Gaddafi were to die in one of the many attacks, some with bunker-busting bombs, on facilities across Libya.
"Everyone ... wants Gaddafi to go," the official said, explaining why NATO forces have been conducting a "major effort against (Gaddafi's) command and control facilities."
U.S. officials say they believe the conflict is nearing an "end-game" -- a phrase notably employed by an official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a meeting of the allies in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
After that meeting, Australia's foreign minister forecast that Gaddafi's ousting "may come sooner" than many had expected.
Previously, U.S. officials had assessed the Libyan conflict as an indefinite stalemate, due to the relatively strong capabilities of government forces when compared to rebel forces whose capabilities have been regarded as minimal to dire.
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in London; editing by Alastair Macdonald)