U.S., allies' jets poised to fly over Libya as other nations mull strategy

Libyan men perform the Friday prayer next to an abandoned army tank in the center of Benghazi on March 18, 2011 as thousands gathered in the rebel stronghold for prayers and celebrations after a UN vote approved a no-fly zone. AFP PHOTO/PATRICK BAZ (Photo credit should read PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan men perform the Friday prayer next to an abandoned army tank in the center of Benghazi on March 18, 2011 as thousands gathered in the rebel stronghold for prayers and celebrations after a UN vote approved a no-fly zone. AFP PHOTO/PATRICK BAZ (Photo credit should read PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images) (Afp/getty Images)

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By Karen DeYoung
Saturday, March 19, 2011; 1:52 PM

The planned military action in Libya marks a rare international intervention in which U.S. forces will not take the lead operational role.

With French, British and United Arab Emirates jets poised to begin flights over Libya, and other European and Arab forces assembling to aid enforcement of a no-fly zone, the Americans were far from the pending action, in ships offshore and surveillance aircraft high above.

President Obama, in an East Room statement on Friday, described U.S. tasks as "shaping" and "enabling" operations, which administration officials said would include sea-launched strikes on Libyan air defenses to make the skies safe for others and command-and-control functions.

"I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing," Obama said. "The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal - specifically the protection of civilians in Libya."

Although military officials did not rule out the use of U.S. fighters and bombers in subsequent phases of the Libya operations, should they become necessary, Obama made clear to the lawmakers he gathered for a White House briefing that there were no initial plans to use U.S. aircraft.

In his meeting with congressional leaders, Obama emphasized that "he was not authorizing any soldiers or fighter planes at this juncture," according to a staffer for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who this week raised concerns about Obama's authority to use force in Libya without a congressional declaration of war.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who had strongly urged intervention in Libya, said the international mission outlined by Obama "very much meets" his own demands for action. The U.N. resolution adopted Thursday, authorizing the use of "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians, Kerry said, "leaves the coalition a lot of flexibility to . . . do what we need to do to shift the balance."

U.S. and European officials discussed the Libyan operation on condition of anonymity as plans were being finalized late Friday.

Among the many decisions still to be made was whether the early stages of the Libyan mission would be conducted under the auspices of NATO or the individual countries that have agreed to participate."It may happen in phases," a NATO official said, with NATO taking over within several days after the "first phase."

The official said that France was eager for the operation to remain a "coalition of the willing," while Britain is seeking an early NATO buy-in.

Events on the ground, including the extent to which Moammar Gaddafi's ground forces cease movement and operations, will determine whether jets enforcing the no-fly zone will also attack Libyan tank and offensive formations, officials said.

As the operation progresses, particularly after NATO command is assumed, other nations are expected to contribute forces. Officials said that Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were considering sending aircraft.


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