March 21st, 2011
06:07 PM ET

U.S. intends to step back in Libya mission, but timing uncertain

CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) - The unique military capabilities of the United States made it the leader of initial coalition attacks on Libya aimed at establishing a no-fly zone and halting Moammar Gadhafi's forces, but the mission will soon shift to control by NATO or others with participation by Arab nations, U.S. officials insist.

From President Barack Obama on down, administration officials say U.S. forces eventually will provide a supporting role - rather than leading the way - in maintaining the no-fly zone over Libya and preventing Gadhafi from using his military against his people.

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon cited "a unique capability we could bring" that "enabled the other assets to be able to be brought to bear right now." After the first phase, he said, "the French and others agreed at NATO to have NATO take on the command and control of this operation at some point" within "not weeks, but days."

The overall goal is for Gadhafi to step down as Libya's leader, Donilon said in a Sunday briefing with reporters covering Obama's Latin American trip.

For now, though, the mission is based on the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized it, as well as an Arab League endorsement for halting Gadhafi's ability to attack his people by putting in a no-fly zone and other necessary steps, according to Donilon and others.

That means the immediate goal of the mission labeled "limited" by Donilon and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is to halt Gadhafi's air capabilities, protect Libyan civilians and ensure that humanitarian work can proceed, they said.

Successful completion of the first phase would bring the transition in leadership, but it remains unclear whether NATO or particular nations will take control.

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soundoff (One Response)
  1. Gerald from canada

    I agree U.S.A. needs to step back, Nato, allies need to step up to the plate.the Arab nato allies in my opinion should be the one's that police the no fly zone period.I'm sure the cities that the rebels gave up are already empty or devistated civil war is ugly.I pray for the innocent people caught in the middle and hope that democracy prevails.It's a hard road ahead I pray for the people of Libya.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm |