Pentagon Official Discusses Libya No-Fly Zone

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2011 — Amid reports from Libya that indi­cate Moam­mar Gadhafi’s troops are gain­ing the upper hand over the oppo­si­tion, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell spoke dur­ing an MSNBC inter­view today about the sit­u­a­tion in Libya and pos­si­ble respons­es.
Mor­rell, who has just returned from accom­pa­ny­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates to NATO for dis­cus­sions on the sit­u­a­tion in North Africa, said NATO defense min­is­ters agreed “to con­tin­ue plan­ning for any and all mil­i­tary options, includ­ing a no-fly zone.”

What hap­pens with the no-fly zone will depend on a polit­i­cal deci­sion that has not been made yet, Mor­rell said.

“How­ev­er, as we saw over the week­end, now the Arab League is call­ing for it,” he added. “So that will undoubt­ed­ly fac­tor into the deci­sion-mak­ing of the pres­i­dent and oth­er Euro­pean lead­ers as they go for­ward.”

Three Amer­i­can ships remain off the Libyan coast: the USS Kearsarge, the USS Ponce and the USS Bar­ry. Oth­er NATO nations also have posi­tioned ships in the Mediter­ranean.

“But remem­ber,” Mor­rell said, “this is to mon­i­tor the arms embar­go that the U.N. put in place, as well as to pro­vide human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance if need­ed.”

If the deci­sion is made to estab­lish a no-fly zone, the U.S. mil­i­tary can make it work, Mor­rell said.

“I don’t think this has ever been a ques­tion of can we do this,” he said. “I mean, this is the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary. Even though we have sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ments in Iraq and Afghanistan and else­where around the world, Sec­re­tary Gates has made it abun­dant­ly clear we can do this.”

NATO allies would help, Mor­rell not­ed. “It’s impor­tant that we not do it alone,” he said. “But this is not a ques­tion of ‘can.’ It’s a ques­tion of whether we should. And that’s a deci­sion that the pres­i­dent will make at some point.”

Mean­while, two more U.S. mil­i­tary flights flew Egypt­ian civil­ians home from Tunisia over the week­end, Pen­ta­gon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said today.

A March 12 flight out of Djer­ba air­lift­ed 60 Egyp­tians back to Cairo, and a flight yes­ter­day had 79 pas­sen­gers. The Egyp­tians escaped fight­ing inside Libya and were strand­ed in Tunisia.

To date, 13 such flights have air­lift­ed 982 pas­sen­gers, Lapan said. The C‑130 flights began March 5, and there are none sched­uled today, he added.

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

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