Forces Accomplish No-fly Zone Mission, Gates Says

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2011 - U.S. and coalition forces have accomplished the no-fly zone aspect of the United Nations mission in Libya, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a television interview aired today.

Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and discussed what coalition nations have achieved as actions in Libya enter a second week.

U.S. and coalition partners have suppressed Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses in Libya and have not seen his planes in the air since the no-fly zone was put in place March 19, Gates said.

"We've also been successful on the humanitarian side," the defense secretary said. "We have prevented his forces from going to Bengahzi, and we have taken out a good bit of his armor." He added that, "I think we have, to a very large extent, completed the military mission, in terms of getting it set up."

Gates said no decision has been made about supplying arms to Libyan forces opposing Gadhafi, though the U.N. Security Council resolution establishing the no-fly zone permits such action.

"I think the president's policy is it's time for Gadhafi to go," he said. "That's not part of our military mission, which has been very limited and very strictly defined."

While a number of diplomatic efforts are underway to help resolve the situation in Libya, Gates said, "One should not underestimate the possibility of the regime itself cracking."

Clinton said she's confident the operation in Libya prevented Gadhafi from killing potentially tens of thousands of Libyan civilians and creating a refugee crisis that would have destabilized the region.

"He was intending, by his own words, to 'show no mercy,'" she said. "I think we prevented a great humanitarian disaster."

Now, because of the "good work of the coalition," Gadhafi's forces are turning back and the opposition is regaining ground it had lost, she said.

The military mission has been very well coordinated, and NATO is now taking command over it, she said, adding that "at the same time, we are pursuing really strict economic sanctions ... [and] we have a political effort underway."

Clinton said the African Union has called for a transition to democracy in Libya, and the Arab League will join "others of us who are supporting this effort" for talks in London Tuesday to focus on how to manage such a transition.

The United Nations will also send a special envoy to Benghazi and Tripoli in the next several days to send a "very clear message" to Gadhafi, she said.

The secretary of state also said the international community's message to the Libyan leader is that "now is your time to get out of this and to help change the direction."

As protests in Syria extend the wave of popular uprisings that have swept across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations in recent months, Clinton said, the U.S. approach remains consistent: "We want to see no violence, we want to see peaceful protests ... and we want to see economic and political reform."

Clinton cited Egypt as an example of political transformation now under way. She and Gates have both visited Egypt in recent weeks, and offered assistance in reform efforts, she said.

"It is hard moving from being in the forefront of a movement to being part of a political process," she said. "It's hard in any country - but we're going to stand with them and make sure ... they get the support they need."

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