Gates Outlines U.S. Role as NATO Takes Libya Mission

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 — As NATO assumed com­mand of coali­tion oper­a­tions in Libya this morn­ing, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that U.S. forces will “sig­nif­i­cant­ly ramp down” their com­mit­ment in the oper­a­tion.
Gates said U.S. efforts in Libya will pro­vide the capa­bil­i­ties oth­er nations don’t have in kind and scale.

Dur­ing the first phase of Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn, U.S. forces pro­vid­ed the bulk of mil­i­tary assets and fire­pow­er, logis­ti­cal sup­port and over­all com­mand and con­trol, Gates told the law­mak­ers. The U.S. focus as the oper­a­tion con­tin­ues will be elec­tron­ic attack, aer­i­al refu­el­ing, lift, search and res­cue, and intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance sup­port, he said.

“There will be no Amer­i­can boots on the ground in Libya,” the sec­re­tary added.

Gates stressed that coali­tion mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Libya are not aimed at end­ing the regime of Moam­mar Gad­hafi. “In my view,” he said, “the removal of Colonel Gad­hafi will like­ly be achieved over time through polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic mea­sures and by his own peo­ple.”

What the NATO-led mis­sion, now called Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor, can do is “degrade Gadhafi’s mil­i­tary capac­i­ty to the point where he –- and those around him –- will be forced into a very dif­fer­ent set of choic­es and behav­iors in the future,” Gates said.

The sec­re­tary said Libya’s pos­si­ble desta­bi­liz­ing effect in the Mid­dle East rep­re­sents a strong nation­al inter­est for the Unit­ed States.

“In the space of about two months, the world has watched an extra­or­di­nary sto­ry unfold in the Mid­dle East,” he said. “The tur­bu­lence being expe­ri­enced by vir­tu­al­ly every coun­try in the region presents both per­ils and promise for the Unit­ed States.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma in Feb­ru­ary artic­u­lat­ed a core set of prin­ci­ples — oppos­ing vio­lence, stand­ing for uni­ver­sal val­ues, and speak­ing out on the need for polit­i­cal change and reform — in response to wide­spread protests sweep­ing the region, Gates said.

“In the case of Libya, our gov­ern­ment, our allies, and our part­ners in the region, watched with alarm as the regime of Moam­mar Gad­hafi respond­ed to legit­i­mate protests with bru­tal sup­pres­sion and a mil­i­tary cam­paign against his own peo­ple,” he said.

Gadhafi’s use of force against the Libyan peo­ple cre­at­ed the prospect of sig­nif­i­cant civil­ian casu­al­ties and hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees flee­ing to Egypt, Gates said, poten­tial­ly desta­bi­liz­ing that coun­try in the midst of its own dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion.

“Once the Arab League and Gulf Coop­er­a­tion Coun­cil called on Gad­hafi to cease his attacks, and our Euro­pean allies expressed a will­ing­ness to com­mit real mil­i­tary resources, it became appar­ent that the time and con­di­tions were right for inter­na­tion­al mil­i­tary action,” he said.

“The secu­ri­ty and pros­per­i­ty of the Unit­ed States is linked to the secu­ri­ty and pros­per­i­ty of the broad­er Mid­dle East,” the sec­re­tary said. “It con­tin­ues to be in our nation­al inter­est to pre­vent Gad­hafi from vis­it­ing fur­ther depre­da­tions on his own peo­ple, desta­bi­liz­ing his neigh­bors, and set­ting back the progress the peo­ple of the Mid­dle East have made in recent weeks.”

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

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