U.S. Military Repositions Forces in Preparation for Libya Response
The U.S. military is repositioning its forces near North Africa as the United States and its allies impose sanctions on Libya and consider whether to impose a no-fly zone over the country, where a resistance army is building against dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Fox News has learned that the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise — which was previously positioned off the coast of Somalia, where it was stationed to respond to a pirate hijacking — has turned around and moved to the mouth of the Suez Canal in the Red Sea, heading in the direction of Libya — with 15 detained pirates on board.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the military is “repositioning” forces to be ready to assist in Libya. Most likely, U.S. forces would be asked to provide humanitarian relief, though no decision has been made and the State Department has not yet made a request to the military, Lapan said.
Lapan added that no decision has been made regarding a no-fly zone as international pressure builds for Qaddafi to step down and end the violence in his country. A no-fly zone would require NATO support.
A senior Obama administration official downplayed an article Monday in The New York Times that detailed behind-the-scenes talks among U.S., European and NATO officials about the possibility of flight restrictions over Libya. But the official acknowledged the scenario was being discussed.
“This is no different than what’s been said repeatedly at briefings. It’s an idea that is on the table and under consideration,” the official said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Geneva Monday to press European allies to take action against Libya. After the Obama administration announced unilateral sanctions against Libya Friday, the U.N. Security Council approved its own sanctions Saturday followed by the European Union on Monday.
Clinton said as far as allied action is concerned, “nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens.”
One European Union official reportedly said negotiations were being conducted over the possibility of a no-fly zone.
That was a scenario strongly backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Sunday. The former Republican presidential nominee, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said he was not ready to endorse sending ground forces in but that flight restrictions would send a “very strong signal.” He suggested the action could have saved lives if imposed earlier.
“They would have stopped flying if that had been imposed. They’re using air power and helicopters to continue these massacres,” McCain said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who is frequently aligned with McCain, also said “the world has to do more.”
“I begin with the imposition of a no-fly zone so that Qaddafi can’t be attacking his own people from the air or flying in more mercenaries,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that the United States should recognize the opposition “provisional government” as the official government of Libya.
“We … ought to give that government certainly humanitarian assistance and military arms, not to go in on the ground ourselves but to give them the wherewithal to fight on behalf of the people of Libya against a really cruel dictator,” he said.
Obama plans to meet Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Times reported that no decision had been reached with regard to a no-fly zone, though it was under discussion. One official told the newspaper the U.N. Security Council would need to debate the issue further and is unlikely to act unless state-sponsored violence in Libya increases significantly.