Gates Cites Efforts to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Libya

MOSCOW, March 22, 2011 — Coali­tion forces enforc­ing a no-fly zone in Libya to halt the slaugh­ter of cit­i­zens by Moam­mar Gad­hafi “have gone to great lengths to avoid civil­ian casu­al­ties,” Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates and Russ­ian Defense Min­is­ter Ana­toliy Serdyukov met to dis­cuss a range of issues that also includ­ed the new Strate­gic Arms Lim­i­ta­tion Treaty, mis­sile defense, coop­er­a­tion in Afghanistan, defense reform, and a new defense rela­tions work­ing group.

Amid praise for great strides made over the past year in mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion between the nations, Gates said, Serdyukov told him that Rus­sia “sup­ports the agree­ment of inter­na­tion­al pow­ers that vio­lence against Libyans should be stopped.” But he then called for “an imme­di­ate cease­fire” of hos­til­i­ties he said were “destroy­ing civil­ian facil­i­ties and killing civil­ians,” the sec­re­tary added. 

“I assured him that the actions of the coali­tion are com­plete­ly con­sis­tent with the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion call­ing for the impo­si­tion of a no-fly zone and pro­tect­ing civil­ian lives,” Gates said. 

The res­o­lu­tion of the Arab League and the Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil that led to U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973 “were, in fact, a recog­ni­tion that Colonel Gad­hafi was killing large num­bers of his own peo­ple,” the sec­re­tary said. 

“Most of the tar­gets are air defense tar­gets iso­lat­ed from pop­u­lat­ed areas,” he added. 

“Sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary fight­ing that’s been going on should recede in the next few days,” the sec­re­tary said he told Serdyukov, “and I agree with him that the future of Libya should be decid­ed by the Libyan people.” 

As coali­tion mem­bers are suc­cess­ful in sup­press­ing Gadhafi’s air defens­es, the lev­el of kinet­ic activ­i­ty should decline, Gates added. “It’s per­fect­ly evi­dent that the vast major­i­ty, if not near­ly all civil­ian casu­al­ties, have been inflict­ed by Gad­hafi,” he said. 

Lead­er­ship for coali­tion activ­i­ties should trans­fer soon from U.S. Africa Com­mand to an author­i­ty that is now being dis­cussed, Gate said. 

“This com­mand and con­trol busi­ness is com­pli­cat­ed, and we haven’t done some­thing like this kind ‘of on the fly’ before,” he said, “so it’s not sur­pris­ing to me that it would take a few days to get it all sort­ed out.” 

The U.S.-Russia rela­tion­ship has seen remark­able progress in the past year, Gates added, evolv­ing from one that focused near­ly exclu­sive­ly on arms con­trol issues “to our present col­lab­o­ra­tion on a work­ing lev­el on a range of mat­ters affect­ing our defense ministries. 

The sec­re­tary said he looks for­ward to a con­tin­ued dia­logue and a stronger rela­tion­ship in the future. 

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

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