Obama: U.S. Part of Broad Coalition in Libya

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2011 — U.S. mil­i­tary actions in Libya are being con­duct­ed as part of a broad multi­na­tion­al coali­tion and in direct sup­port of a Unit­ed Nations man­date designed to set con­di­tions for oth­er coali­tion part­ners to play larg­er roles enforc­ing the no-fly zone there, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said today.
Oba­ma told reporters in San­ti­a­go, Chile, that he direct­ed Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen to move for­ward with mil­i­tary action only after it became clear that his warn­ings to Libyan leader Moam­mar Gad­hafi had fall­en on deaf ears.

“He, despite words to the con­trary, was con­tin­u­ing to act aggres­sive­ly toward civil­ians,” Oba­ma said. “After con­sult­ing with our allies, we decid­ed to move for­ward.”

The Unit­ed States played a larg­er role dur­ing the ini­tial phas­es of the oper­a­tion only because it had capa­bil­i­ties par­tic­u­lar­ly well-suit­ed to tak­ing out Gadhafi’s air defens­es, the pres­i­dent said. “That … shapes the envi­ron­ment in which a no-fly zone can actu­al­ly be effec­tive,” he explained.

Fast action also helped to stop advances on Beng­hazi and sent “a clear mes­sage to Gad­hafi that he need­ed to start pulling his troops back,” the pres­i­dent said.

More Euro­pean nations and Arab League mem­bers will step for­ward dur­ing the next phase of the oper­a­tion to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

“There is going to be a tran­si­tion tak­ing place in which we are one of the part­ners among many who are going to ensure that no-fly zone is enforced, and the human pro­tec­tion that needs to be pro­vid­ed con­tin­ues to be in place,” Oba­ma said.

The man­ner in which the Unit­ed States took lead­er­ship of the ini­tial thrust and set the stage for oth­er nations to par­tic­i­pate “ensures inter­na­tion­al legit­i­ma­cy and ensures that … mem­bers of the inter­na­tion­al coali­tion are bear­ing the bur­den of fol­low­ing through on the mis­sion as well,” he said.

Rec­og­niz­ing that the U.S. mil­i­tary is “already very stretched,” Oba­ma wel­comed the inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion being demon­strat­ed dur­ing Oper­a­tion Odyssey Dawn.

“When­ev­er pos­si­ble for us to get inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion – not just in terms of words, but also in terms of planes and pilots and resources, that is some­thing we should active­ly seek and embrace,” he said. “It relieves the bur­den on our mil­i­tary, and it relieves the bur­den on U.S. tax­pay­ers to ful­fill what is an inter­na­tion­al mis­sion and not sim­ply a U.S. mis­sion.”

While not specif­i­cal­ly men­tion­ing any par­tic­u­lar mis­sion, Oba­ma referred to past oper­a­tions in which the Unit­ed States act­ed uni­lat­er­al­ly or with lim­it­ed inter­na­tion­al sup­port and end­ed up car­ry­ing the bulk of the bur­den alone.

Oba­ma said he finds it “very easy to square our mil­i­tary actions and our stat­ed poli­cies” con­cern­ing Libya.

“Our mil­i­tary action is in sup­port of an inter­na­tion­al man­date from the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil that specif­i­cal­ly focus­es on the human­i­tar­i­an threat posed by Colonel Gad­hafi to his peo­ple,” he said, not­ing that Gad­hafi was mur­der­ing civil­ians and threat­en­ing to “show no mer­cy” to those in Beng­hazi.

“In the face of that, the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty ral­lied and said, ‘We have to stop any poten­tial atroc­i­ties inside Libya’ and pro­vid­ed a broad man­date to accom­plish that spe­cif­ic task,” Oba­ma said.

“The core prin­ci­ple that has to be uphold here is that when the entire inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty almost unan­i­mous­ly says that there is a poten­tial human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legit­i­ma­cy decides to turn his mil­i­tary on his own peo­ple, that we can’t sim­ply stand by with emp­ty words,” he said. “We have to take some sort of action.”

U.S. pol­i­cy rec­og­nizes that “Gad­hafi needs to go,” the pres­i­dent said, not­ing “a wide range of tools in addi­tion to our mil­i­tary efforts to sup­port that pol­i­cy.”

The Unit­ed States was quick to impose uni­lat­er­al sanc­tions against Libya and to mobi­lize inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions against the Gad­hafi regime, he not­ed. This includ­ed freez­ing assets Gad­hafi might use to empow­er him­self, pur­chase weapons or hire mer­ce­nar­ies to direct against the Libyan peo­ple.

“So there are a whole range of poli­cies that we are putting in place that has cre­at­ed one of the most pow­er­ful inter­na­tion­al con­sen­sus­es around the iso­la­tion of Mr. Gad­hafi,” Oba­ma said. “And we will con­tin­ue to pur­sue those.”

Mean­while, the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to pro­vide mil­i­tary sup­port to enforce U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973’s human­i­tar­i­an focus, he said. “We are going to make sure we stick to that man­date,” he added.

The pres­i­dent said he is par­tic­u­lar­ly proud of the way the U.S. mil­i­tary has car­ried out the ini­tial thrust.

“It is a tes­ta­ment to the men and women in uni­form who, when they are giv­en a mis­sion, they exe­cute and do an out­stand­ing job,” he said.

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

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