Although the United States has played a prominent role in the first phase of the international coalition's military activities in Libya, the Obama administration said the U.S. contribution will be diminishing as other members of the coalition take the lead.
President Obama's deputy national security adviser for communications, Ben Rhodes, said March 21 that the Obama administration is consulting with its European allies and Arab partners about "what the command structure will be when we transition to a coalition command and enforcement of the no-fly zone" that was authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
Speaking to reporters in Santiago, Chile, Rhodes said the United States has been instrumental in efforts to rapidly take out Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi's air-defense systems and air assets, as well as taking action to stop the offensive of his forces into Benghazi, but the U.S. contribution to the military effort will shift toward a support role, while its coalition allies will take the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone.
President Obama had felt it was necessary to take urgent action with the international community to stop the advance of Qadhafi's forces and protect the Libyan people, Rhodes said.
"Within days or hours even, it was expected that [Qadhafi] would get to Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people that was the center of the opposition, that he had told he would show no mercy. If ever there was an example of an imminent, urgent humanitarian danger, we believed that this was [one]," he said.
The imposition of the no-fly zone prevents Qadhafi from using air assets against his people and also helps to create the conditions to allow humanitarian aid workers and supplies to reach the population, he said.
Rhodes said that along with transitioning to a support role, the United States does not intend to broaden the military action beyond what has been authorized by the United Nations.
Representatives of the Libyan opposition had urged the United States to help implement a no-fly zone, but they "expressly did not want the introduction, for instance, of foreign ground forces or a more robust military mandate," he said. The Libyans "are the ones driving the change from within Libya. What we are doing is stopping the humanitarian crisis."
The Obama administration intends to continue working to isolate the Qadhafi regime and urges the international community to do the same in order to create "a broader sense of momentum that this is not going to go in Qadhafi's favor."
Rhodes said the global community can play "a very strong role in sending a signal that history is not on the side of Qadhafi, that people who are aligned with the aspirations of the Libyan people and the Libyan opposition ... have the legitimacy of popular support that he himself has lost."
The White House said President Obama spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 21 to thank Turkey for its assistance in facilitating the release and safe passage to Tunisia of four journalists from the New York Times who had been detained by Libyan forces.
According to a March 22 White House statement, both leaders reaffirmed their determination to protect the Libyan people by fully implementing U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, and agreed that "this will require a broad-based international effort, including Arab states, to implement and enforce the U.N. resolutions, based on national contributions and enabled by NATO's unique multinational command-and-control capabilities to ensure maximum effectiveness."
The statement added that Obama and Erdogan "underscored their shared commitment to the goal of helping provide the Libyan people an opportunity to transform their country, by installing a democratic system that respects the people's will."
QADHAFI NOT IN COMPLIANCE WITH U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL
Admiral Samuel Locklear, who commands U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa, spoke to reporters March 22 from the USS Mount Whitney in the Mediterranean Sea. He said the international coalition consists of "13 nations that are either here or moving forces in this direction."
He said forces from Qatar are currently en route and anticipated "they will be up and flying in the coalition by the weekend."
Qadhafi's forces are still in breach of the U.N. Security Council, Locklear said, noting their continued attacks on civilians in the city of Misurata. Although his forces have been forced from Benghazi, they have yet to pull back from Zawiyah and Ajdabiya, as well as Misurata, he said.
"If Colonel Qadhafi would meet that requirement, would have a cease-fire implemented; stop all attacks against citizens and withdraw from the places that we've told him to withdraw; establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas and allow humanitarian assistance, then the fighting would stop. Our job would be over," Locklear said.
In the meantime, the no-fly zone is in place and is proving to be effective. "We have diminished his ability, I think, from an air-defense and an air force perspective to the point where I'm comfortable with a no-fly zone. And then we're going to continue to pursue all actions necessary to make him comply with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973," Locklear said.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.