Gates: Military Effort in Libya One Part of Solution

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)

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