Forces Accomplish No-fly Zone Mission, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2011 — U.S. and coali­tion forces have accom­plished the no-fly zone aspect of the Unit­ed Nations mis­sion in Libya, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said dur­ing a tele­vi­sion inter­view aired today.
Gates and Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and dis­cussed what coali­tion nations have achieved as actions in Libya enter a sec­ond week.

U.S. and coali­tion part­ners have sup­pressed Moam­mar Gadhafi’s air defens­es in Libya and have not seen his planes in the air since the no-fly zone was put in place March 19, Gates said.

“We’ve also been suc­cess­ful on the human­i­tar­i­an side,” the defense sec­re­tary said. “We have pre­vent­ed his forces from going to Ben­gahzi, and we have tak­en out a good bit of his armor.” He added that, “I think we have, to a very large extent, com­plet­ed the mil­i­tary mis­sion, in terms of get­ting it set up.”

Gates said no deci­sion has been made about sup­ply­ing arms to Libyan forces oppos­ing Gad­hafi, though the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion estab­lish­ing the no-fly zone per­mits such action.

“I think the president’s pol­i­cy is it’s time for Gad­hafi to go,” he said. “That’s not part of our mil­i­tary mis­sion, which has been very lim­it­ed and very strict­ly defined.”

While a num­ber of diplo­mat­ic efforts are under­way to help resolve the sit­u­a­tion in Libya, Gates said, “One should not under­es­ti­mate the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the regime itself crack­ing.”

Clin­ton said she’s con­fi­dent the oper­a­tion in Libya pre­vent­ed Gad­hafi from killing poten­tial­ly tens of thou­sands of Libyan civil­ians and cre­at­ing a refugee cri­sis that would have desta­bi­lized the region.

“He was intend­ing, by his own words, to ’show no mer­cy,’ ” she said. “I think we pre­vent­ed a great human­i­tar­i­an dis­as­ter.”

Now, because of the “good work of the coali­tion,” Gadhafi’s forces are turn­ing back and the oppo­si­tion is regain­ing ground it had lost, she said.

The mil­i­tary mis­sion has been very well coor­di­nat­ed, and NATO is now tak­ing com­mand over it, she said, adding that “at the same time, we are pur­su­ing real­ly strict eco­nom­ic sanc­tions … [and] we have a polit­i­cal effort under­way.”

Clin­ton said the African Union has called for a tran­si­tion to democ­ra­cy in Libya, and the Arab League will join “oth­ers of us who are sup­port­ing this effort” for talks in Lon­don Tues­day to focus on how to man­age such a tran­si­tion.

The Unit­ed Nations will also send a spe­cial envoy to Beng­hazi and Tripoli in the next sev­er­al days to send a “very clear mes­sage” to Gad­hafi, she said.

The sec­re­tary of state also said the inter­na­tion­al community’s mes­sage to the Libyan leader is that “now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direc­tion.”

As protests in Syr­ia extend the wave of pop­u­lar upris­ings that have swept across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and oth­er nations in recent months, Clin­ton said, the U.S. approach remains con­sis­tent: “We want to see no vio­lence, we want to see peace­ful protests … and we want to see eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal reform.”

Clin­ton cit­ed Egypt as an exam­ple of polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion now under way. She and Gates have both vis­it­ed Egypt in recent weeks, and offered assis­tance in reform efforts, she said.

“It is hard mov­ing from being in the fore­front of a move­ment to being part of a polit­i­cal process,” she said. “It’s hard in any coun­try – but we’re going to stand with them and make sure … they get the sup­port they need.”

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

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