ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 20, 2011 — As the United States and its coalition partners establish the no-fly zone they hope will keep Moammar Gadhafi from “slaughtering his own people,” military forces are just one way to bring stability to Libya, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
“The tool box we bring with us to this [military action] has things in it in addition to hammers,” Gates told reporters traveling with him en route to Russia. “There’s a whole range of political and economic sanctions and a variety of other actions that have been taken.”
The first objective is to accomplish the mandate set forth in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, he said. “I think we’ve made good progress in doing that,” he added.
Gates said what’s important to President Barack Obama in the ongoing military effort is “a meaningful coalition, meaning other countries making serious military contributions so the United States isn’t carrying the pre-eminent responsibility for an indefinite period of time.”
Obama limited the U.S. contribution to “no boots on the ground,” the secretary said, but “we agreed to use our unique capabilities … at the front end of this process [and] expected in a matter of days to be able to turn over the primary responsibility to others.”
“We will continue to support the coalition, be a member of the coalition, we will have a military role in the coalition but we will not have a preeminent role,” the secretary said. U.S. Africa Command has taken the military lead in the initial fighting, Gates cited possibilities for a transition to leadership by the international coalition.
“One is British and French leadership, another is the use of the NATO machinery, he said. “We just have to work out the command and control that is most accommodating to all coalition members.”
Gates said the Arab League reaffirmed its support today of the military effort in Libya and that this action was “very important, because the initiative first came from those in the region.”
The coalition is not operating as a NATO mission, Gates said, because of sensitivity on the part of the Arab League to being seen to be operating under a NATO umbrella. He added it may be possible to “work out NATO’s command and control machinery without it being a NATO mission and without a NATO flag.”
The United States received strong indications from several Arab states that they would participate in the coalition, the secretary said, though so far only Qatar has planes in the fight.
“This is a new endeavor for them,” he said, “and the notion that it takes them a while to get it organized shouldn’t be a surprise.”
The longer-term process of creating a stable Libya will have to be resolved by the Libyans themselves, Gates said.
“This is something that we’ve talked about with respect to other countries in the region,” he said, including Tunisia and Egypt. Whether Gadhafi’s opponents in Libya will get additional outside help remains to be seen, he added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)