Coalition Operation Protects Lybian People, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2011 — Coali­tion efforts are ham­per­ing Moam­mar Gadhafi’s forces from con­tin­u­ing attacks on inno­cent civil­ians and rebel forces in Lybia, U.S. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said dur­ing inter­views on tele­vi­sion talk shows that aired today.
Gates appeared with U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton on ABC’s “This Week with Chris­tiane Aman­pour,” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.” They dis­cussed progress made dur­ing Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn, which estab­lished a no-fly zone over Libya. The oper­a­tion was launched March 19 by coali­tion forces to enforce a U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion to pro­tect the Libyan peo­ple from Gadhafi’s forces.

“We pre­vent­ed the large-scale slaugh­ter that was begin­ning to take place,” Gates said. “We made a lot of progress on the human­i­tar­i­an side, and [Gadhafi’s] abil­i­ty to move armor toward [sev­er­al cities] has pret­ty well been elim­i­nat­ed. He has ground forces at his beck and call, but they’re under a lot of pres­sure.”

The goal for the U.S. mil­i­tary was to estab­lish a mis­sion in Libya that could be accom­plished in a lim­it­ed peri­od of time and then be sus­tained, he said.

“I think the mil­i­tary mis­sion has gone quite well,” he said. “There was nev­er any doubt in my mind that we could quick­ly estab­lish a no fly-zone and sup­press [Gadhafi’s] air defens­es.”

Gates said it’s uncer­tain what will deter­mine the ulti­mate out­come in Libya, par­tic­u­lar­ly as inter­na­tion­al pres­sure con­tin­ues and if Gadhafi’s sup­port­ers see no future stay­ing with him, Gates said.

“We can see ele­ments of his mil­i­tary turn­ing, say­ing ‘This is a no-win propo­si­tion,’ and the fam­i­ly is split­ting,” the sec­re­tary said, adding that some for­mer Gad­hafi sup­port­ers have joined the oppo­si­tion.

Defense offi­cials “are already [plan­ning] in terms of begin­ning to draw down resources,” Gates said. “That might not start in the next day or two, but I cer­tain­ly expect in the near future.”

Gates said the Defense Depart­ment will start dimin­ish­ing the lev­el of engage­ment and the lev­el of resources the U.S. mil­i­tary has involved, at some point. How­ev­er, as long as the no-fly zone exists and the Defense Depart­ment has “unique capa­bil­i­ties to bring to bear” — such as intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance, recon­nais­sance and some tank­ing abil­i­ty — Gates said the U.S. will “con­tin­ue to have pres­ence.”

He also not­ed that oth­er U.S. troops are near­by in Europe and in the Mediter­ranean to pro­vide sup­port if they are need­ed, he said.

How long the over­all mis­sion in Libya might last, he said on “Face the Nation,” is uncer­tain. “I don’t think any­body knows the answer to that.”

Though Libya is not a direct threat to the U.S., Gates said Ghadafi’s assault on his own peo­ple might have cre­at­ed a per­ilous sit­u­a­tion, giv­en the unrest tak­ing place in neigh­bor­ing Arab nations.

“With rev­o­lu­tions on both the east and west of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, [it could have been] a sig­nif­i­cant desta­bi­liz­ing event, that Libya put at risk poten­tial­ly,” Gates point­ed out. “The rev­o­lu­tions in both Tunisia and Egypt were a con­sid­er­a­tion we took into account.”

When in Rus­sia last week, Gates said he “pushed back” at com­ments made by Pres­i­dent Dmit­ry Medvedev and Prime Min­is­ter Vladamir Putin about the num­ber of civil­ian casu­al­ties in Libya, after the U.S. and coali­tion forces estab­lished the no-fly zone.

“We have trou­ble com­ing up with proof of any civil­ian casu­al­ties that we have been respon­si­ble for,” Gates point­ed out. “But we do have a lot of intel­li­gence reports of Gad­hafi tak­ing the bod­ies of peo­ple he’s already killed and putting them at the sites where they’ve been attacked.”

“We’ve been extreme­ly care­ful,” Gates said, “not just with our pilots, but the pilots of oth­er coali­tion air forces,” to avoid such casu­al­ties on the ground.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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