MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb. 24, 2011 — U.S. defense officials are monitoring the civil unrest in Libya and will provide President Barack Obama with a range of options, the nation’s top military officer told reporters traveling with him today.
“Right now, it is very difficult to know what is going to happen” as the situation in Libya unfolds “almost hourly,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said.
In terms of planning, “we are looking at all our capabilities and a range of contingencies, as we always do,” he said. “What we [will] do is provide the president options. And I want them to be as comprehensive and robust and as far-ranging as we can think of at this point in time as the situation unfolds.”
Mullen emphasized that the United States is not going it alone to deal with the crisis.
“We are working with our allies, absolutely,” he said. “And as the leadership has said, I think it is the responsibility for all nations … to focus on ending that kind of violence and looking for a peaceful, nonviolent outcome, whatever that is going to be.”
The chairman arrived here in the Bahraini capital to meet with national leaders during his sixth stop in a week-long trip through the region.
Mullen praised Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa’s decision to begin a national dialogue to address protestors’ concerns after initial violence. “I have great admiration for steps the crown prince has taken,” the chairman said.
“I certainly decry the violence,” Mullen emphasized. But “it’s a very important message that as soon as the [Bahraini security] forces went away, the violence went away. And I think that both sides responded in a way that ensured violence would not continue.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t evaluate it,” he added.
Mullen said he “honestly never gave a second thought” to reconsidering the long-planned visit here, despite last week’s events.
Bahrain is a critical, longtime ally and host to the U.S. 5th Fleet, the chairman noted, adding that he looks to that relationship continuing into the future.
Mullen told reporters his trip through the region has given him new perspectives about the turmoil and the fact that every country affected faces different issues.
“Each of these countries is different, and each of these countries is figuring out how to address their own challenges,” he said. “That is really up to them. Country after country after country, this is about the people of these countries and how their leadership addresses the challenges they have.
“We want to help and support where it is appropriate,” he continued, with a goal of “doing it peacefully [and] sustaining stability.”
How it will be resolved is yet to be seen, Mullen noted. “We’re all in the middle of this,” he added.
Nearly two weeks after former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime fell, Mullen said, there’s “more of an understanding of what is going on, but without clarity … about exactly what it all means.”
What is clear, the chairman said, is that anti-government protest movements rippling through the region demonstrate that people want much more than what al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations have to offer.
“My belief is that al-Qaida has had a bankrupt approach from the beginning,” one based on violence and bloodshed, Mullen said. “Al-Qaida has no positive outcome.”
Demonstrators who have asserted themselves against oppression to seek opportunity, freedom and better lives “are headed in the exact opposite direction of what al-Qaida seeks,” he said.
The protest movement “isn’t about seeking a way of life that al-Qaida aspires to,” Mullen said. “It is about seeking a better life, about opportunity for themselves and their families –- the kinds of freedoms, employment opportunity, prosperity [and] security that many of them haven’t seen.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)