published Friday, March 25th, 2011

U.S. likely to keep combat role after Libya shift

A Dutch F-16 aircraft prepares for landing at the Decimomannu airbase in Sardinia, Italy, Thursday. French fighter jets struck an air base deep inside Libya and destroyed one of Gadhafi's planes Thursday. Other coalition bombers struck artillery, arms depots and parked helicopters. (AP Photo/Rosi Coroneo)
A Dutch F-16 aircraft prepares for landing at the Decimomannu airbase in Sardinia, Italy, Thursday. French fighter jets struck an air base deep inside Libya and destroyed one of Gadhafi's planes Thursday. Other coalition bombers struck artillery, arms depots and parked helicopters. (AP Photo/Rosi Coroneo)

By ROBERT BURNS and ERICA WERNER

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States welcomed a partial handover for the Libyan air campaign to NATO on Thursday, but the allies apparently balked at assuming full control and the U.S. military was left in charge of the brunt of combat.

NATO agreed to take over command of the newly established no-fly zone over Libya, protective flights meant to deter Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi from putting warplanes in the air. That leaves the U.S. with responsibility for attacks on Gadhafi’s ground forces and other targets, which are the toughest and most controversial portion of the operation.

The U.S had hoped the alliance would reach a consensus Thursday for NATO to take full control of the military operation authorized by the United Nations, including the protection of Libyan civilians and supporting humanitarian aid efforts on the ground. It was not immediately clear when the allies could reach agreement on the matter.

“We are taking the next step: We have agreed along with our NATO allies to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

“All 28 allies have also now authorized military authorities to develop an operations plan for NATO to take on the broader civilian protection mission,” Clinton said.

Lines of authority were unclear Thursday night, but it appeared the NATO decision sets up dual command centers and opens the door to confusion and finger-pointing. U.S. commanders would presumably be chiefly responsible for ensuring that the NATO protective flights do not conflict with planned combat operations under U.S. command.

The Pentagon indicated U.S. warplanes will keep flying strike missions over Libya.

Senior administration officials said the breakthrough came in a four-way telephone call with Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Turkey. The four worked out the way forward, which included the immediate transfer of command and control of the no-fly zone over Libya, and by early next week of the rest of the U.N.-mandated mission.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military planning, said the actual handover of the no-fly zone would occur in one or two days. They said NATO would have a final operational plan by over the weekend for how it would assume control over the rest of the protection mission, and that it would be executable by Tuesday’s meeting in London of nations contributing to the military action.

The officials said the decision of which commanders control which areas was still being worked out.

NATO’s announcement came after nearly a week of U.S.-led air assaults, as the Obama administration pressed for a quick handoff. A series of disagreements, including questions of overall political control and how aggressive the mission should be, had held up the allies’ agreement.

The U.S. assumed command of the operation, which began on Saturday, largely because it alone possesses the military wherewithal to coordinate the complex array of movements, targeting and intelligence collection that was required to enable the establishment of a protective no-fly zone over Libya. Now that Gadhafi’s air force has been grounded and his air defenses largely silenced, the mission could be pursued under a different command such as NATO.

Clinton also praised the United Arab Emirates for becoming the second Arab country after Qatar to send planes to help the mission to protect Libyan civilians, enforce the U.N. arms embargo on the North African country and support humanitarian aid efforts. The U.A.E. will deploy 12 planes.

Clinton said she will travel to London next week to coordinate the strategy and military operation against Gadhafi’s regime.

With the costs of the campaign growing by the day and members of Congress raising complaints over the goals in Libya, the administration wants its allies to take the lead soon.

“We are still operating under that timeline, that it will be days, not weeks,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

At the Pentagon, Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the military Joint Chiefs, told reporters that the American role will mainly be in support missions such as refueling allied planes and providing aerial surveillance of Libya. But the U.S. will still fly combat missions as needed, Gortney said.

“And I would anticipate that we would continue to provide some of the interdiction strike packages as well, should that be needed by the coalition,” he added, referring to combat missions such as attacks on Libyan mobile air defenses, ammunition depots, air fields and other assets that support Libyan ground forces.

Carney was more circumspect, calling the next phase of U.S. involvement a “support and assist role,” using U.S. intelligence resources and military capabilities including electronic jamming to throw off missiles or rockets. He did not mention any combat airstrikes.

In a new development Thursday, one of the Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from ships in the Mediterranean struck a surface-to-air missile site near the city of Sabha, far inland at the southern tip of the allies’ designated no-fly zone, Gortney said. The missiles had previously struck mostly along the coastline. Another cruise missile hit a Scud missile site near Tripoli on Thursday, he said.

President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, expressing his appreciation to the leader who has been criticized in Russia for not using the country’s veto in the United Nations Security Council to block the action in Libya.

Next week, Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will brief members of the House on Libya. House Speaker John Boehner, who is pressing the administration to outline its goals in Libya, requested that they speak to lawmakers.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Gortney revealed how the coalition is shaping its strategy for using air power without hitting civilians, even as it pursues the U.N.-mandated goal of stopping Gadhafi from inflicting violence on his own people.

Gortney said that in contested cities like Misrata and Ajdabiya, the coalition is using air power to degrade or destroy the communications, logistics, ammunition storage and other supports for Gadhafi ground forces that are attacking inside the cities — apparently hoping that over time this will sap Gadhafi forces of their strength.

“But we are not attacking, we are not striking, inside the city,” he said.

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Livn4life said...

Okay I'm confused. The US is currently trying to get out of two other middle east conflicts which are costing too much and now we are in a third. I have yet to hear any real reason why we are doing this. Also, where are all the cries against this administration for getting us into it? I guess it all depends on your politics as to how the media responds. How much will this adventure cost us?

March 25, 2011 at 6:28 a.m.
Leaf said...

I've been a staunch Obama supporter, but this was a stupid move. 1 Never get involved in a land war in Asia. 2 Don't mess with a Sicilian when death is on the line. 3 Don't start a war with no exit strategy and undefined goals.

March 25, 2011 at 11:44 a.m.
dao1980 said...

I have always liked rules one and two, and rule three should be a no brain-er regardless of your political affiliation.

March 25, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.
Salsa said...

We need to stop policing the world. The time is coming, and quickly, when we will no longer be able to pay for these adventures.

March 25, 2011 at 12:56 p.m.
Musicman375 said...

We went from being an observer to taking on the most difficult portion of the operation in just a few days time. What the hell are we doing! Why, Obama, why? Can we at least get out of Iraq first? Have any of our "leaders" in Washington even picked up, let alone read, The Art of War. This could get scary for us before we realized it.

March 25, 2011 at 1:06 p.m.
dude_abides said...

Hey, we better dig in and back a winner, cause several of these Arab revolutions are going the other way. If we want to hold sway, we better get more ensconced. Yemen's about to go (thanks partially to Wikileaks), and we need to get that Arabic Jim Jones to drink some Koolaid and fast. Shame we couldn't hit some BP executives and that Lockerbie bomber in the process. If Obama downs this tango and clips Bin Laden, he wins by 15%.

March 25, 2011 at 9:43 p.m.
TyrannyResponse said...

First of all, if you do a little bit of research, Bin Laden died in 2003, in a U.S. hospital in Saudi Arabia. Madelin Albright is on record saying they thought about rolling Bin Laden out for baby Bush, naturally to help win a re-election, but 911 happened instead and he didnt need Bin Laden. Now this teleprompter reading front man for Globalist Bankers, Obama, is now in the dumps and needs something to help him get re-elected. If Photoshoped pics of Bin Laden, isnt enough to convince you that they didnt kill Bin Laden. How about All the SEALS on that mission just so happened to be riding in a National Guard Chopper and more than 20 SEALS from SEAL Team 6 died. Sounds to me that they knew it wasnt Laden after they breached the home. You folks who love this criminal Obama need to watch more news than CNN and all the other Terdstream media. Most of it is common sense if you actually pay attention. So lets talk about the Constitution, if you guys know what that is. The only thing needed to go to combat is Congressional approval. Nothing else. Not NATO or anyone else can say when we go to war. Lou Panetta tells Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) that they only need the president and nato to go to war, and inform congress on their decision. Your Constitutional Republic is gone folks, Obama brought Plenty of Change Alright, He has either Kept all of the Bush policies, or one upped them with things like the NDAA, and the Patriot act, which was never intended for Arab Terrorists, but for the American People.....WAKE UP

May 4, 2012 at 1:59 p.m.
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