Obama: US will turn over control of Libya effort

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 9:24 PM

WASHINGTON -- The four-day air assault in Libya will soon achieve the objectives of establishing a no-fly zone and averting a massacre of civilians by Moammar Gadhafi's troops, President Barack Obama said Tuesday, adding that despite squabbling among allies, the United States will hand off control of the operation to other countries within days.

"When this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone," the president said at a news conference in El Salvador as he neared the end of a Latin American trip overshadowed by events in Libya. "It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily enforcing the arms embargo. That's precisely what the other nations are going to do."

Obama said he has "absolutely no doubt" that a non-U.S. command entity can run the operation, although perhaps the most obvious candidate - the NATO military alliance - has yet to sort out a political agreement to do so. The president said NATO was meeting to "work out some of the mechanisms."

Despite the cost - not only in effort, resources and potential casualties, but also in taxpayer dollars - Obama said he believes the American public is supportive of such a mission.

"This is something that we can build into our budget. And we're confident that not only can the goals be achieved, but at the end of the day the American people are going to feel satisfied that lives were saved and people were helped," he said.

Obama spoke as one senior American military official said the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar was expected to start flying air patrols over Libya by this weekend, becoming the first member of the Arab League to participate directly in the military mission. Obama and NATO had insisted from the start on Arab support.

The president also suggested the administration would not need to request funding from Congress for the air operations but would pay for them out of money already approved.

Administration officials briefed lawmakers during the day about costs and other details to date.

Domestic criticism of the operation has been muted so far, with the president out of the country, but is likely to increase once he flies home on Wednesday - a few hours earlier than had been scheduled.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, said the administration is getting reports - of questionable credibility - that some in Gadhafi's inner circle may be looking for a way out of the crisis. She said some of them, allegedly acting on the Libyan leader's behalf, have reached out to people in Europe and elsewhere to ask, in effect, "How do we get out of this?"

"Some of it is theater," Clinton said in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. "Some of it is, you know, kind of, shall we say game playing." She added: "A lot of it is just the way he behaves. It's somewhat unpredictable. But some of it we think is exploring. You know, `What are my options? Where could I go? What could I do?' And we would encourage that."

The Pentagon said two dozen more Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from U.S. and British submarines late Monday and early Tuesday against Libyan targets, raising the total to 161 aimed at disabling Gadhafi's air defenses.

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