The White House said Wednesday there was no evidence to indicate Moammar Gadhafi had left Libya, but a spokesman said it was clear his hold on power had slipped even as loyalists waged scattered battles across Tripoli.
Briefing reporters who accompanied President Barack Obama on his vacation to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest also said officials are closely monitoring the status of Gadhafi's weapons stockpiles amid concerns that his huge caches of arms could fall into the wrong hands.
At the Pentagon, Col. David Lapan said the U.S. is keeping an eye on Libya's known chemical weapons storage sites and believes they are secure. But he would not elaborate
With hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the U.S. role in Libya, even without troops on the ground, Earnest sought to emphasize that the U.S. has a tangible interest in standing with the Libyan people as they attempt a transition to democracy. He declined to give a timeline for U.S. involvement in the African nation.
"There are difficult days ahead, there are difficult months ahead, there are difficult years ahead," Earnest said.
"It's not a safe place right now," he added.
In Tripoli, the capital, pro-regime snipers cut off the road to the airport while other loyalist fighters launched repeated attacks on Gadhafi's captured private compound. Opposition fighters claimed they had most of Tripoli under control, but a defiant Gadhafi vowed from hiding that he would fight on "until victory or martyrdom."
Earnest said Obama was briefed Wednesday morning on the developments. He also said the U.S. was working to unfreeze $1.5 billion in assets of Gadhafi's regime to help the opposition Transitional National Council.
Earnest said the U.S. remained in close contact with the rebels. "We are encouraged by the way they have conducted themselves so far," he said.
The U.S., which led airstrikes against Gadhafi forces in March before handing off the mission lead to NATO, is also providing humanitarian aid.
Lapan said the U.S dropped two bombs in Libya over the last 24 hours, including one from a Predator drone. He had no details on the targets.
Neither Lapan nor Earnest offered details on Gadhafi's whereabouts beyond saying the U.S. believed he was still in Libya. But a U.S. military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence, said the U.S. has no reason to believe that Gadhafi is not still in Tripoli.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington and Darlene Superville in Vineyard Haven, Mass., contributed to this report.