Friday, March 18, 2011

Britain, France, two Arab nations ready to enforce Libya no-fly zone

By Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Britain and France with backing from the United States and at least two Arab nations, are prepared to launch airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces to protect civilians in rebel-held areas if the U.N. Security Council authorizes the operation, European and U.S. officials said.

The actions would be undertaken in conjunction with a no fly zone – which will have the effect of grounding Gadhafi’s air force, the officials said.

The United States would also take part, but the extent of American participation was still being decided by President Barack Obama and his top advisers, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be further identified in order to talk about the issue.
“This is an ongoing discussion,” he said.

The operation would be launched under a resolution that the U.N. Security Council was expected to vote on sometime early on Thursday evening, said the U.S. official and a European diplomat. Neither could be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The European diplomat said he was “confident that we will have an adoption” of the resolution and “we think it is time for everyone to act on their responsibilities.” But it was not certain whether Russia, which has expressed serious reservations about outside intervention, would use its veto -- or abstain in the vote.

The resolution would expand international sanctions against the Gadhafi regime and authorize the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the regime from using its aircraft against the rebels, who have been driven back in recent days toward the eastern city of Benghazi by Gadhafi’s forces, they said.
“We are in a race for time,” said the European diplomat, who asked not to be further identified because of sensitivity of the issue.

The resolution also would authorize the nations that enforce the no-fly zone to use “all necessary means to protect civilians short of military occupation,” he said.
That phrase would allow the nations enforcing the zone to launch airstrikes to prevent Gadhafi’s forces from overrunning Benghazi, home to about 1 million people, and other eastern cities and towns where the revolt against the Arab world’s longest ruling dictator erupted in mid-February.

The bar on a foreign military occupation of Libya was included in the resolution in a bid to assuage Russia and China, which have serious reservations about outside intervention and could use their vetoes as permanent members of the Security Council to block the resolution.

France and Britain are prepared to begin enforcing the no-fly zone fairly quickly should the measure be approved, and at least two Arab nations have agreed to participate, the European diplomat and the U.S. official said.

They declined to identify the two Arab countries. One was believed to be the United Arab Emirates, the federation of pro-West oil-producing sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country and Libya’s neighbor to the east, is not expected to participate in military action or even help enforce a no-fly zone. It has hundreds of thousands of citizens in Libya who might face retaliation from the Gadhafi regime, and is dealing with political ferment of its own following the ouster last month of longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

U.S. officials have not publicly specified what military action the United States would participate in.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was traveling in Tunisia, said Thursday that the options under consideration include the use of unmanned drones, bombing Libyan air defense to protect plans enforcing a no-fly zones, and arming Libyan rebels, Bloomberg News reported from Tunis.

The Obama administration’s policy toward Libya shifted sharply this week, after the 22-member Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone over Libya, providing the political cover the White House was looking for.

Where the administration was once publicly skeptical about a no-fly zone, it is now saying that steps beyond that must be considered.

“The U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said late Wednesday.

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