Coalition Operation Protects Libyan People, Gates Says
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 27, 2011 Coalition efforts are hampering Moammar Gadhafi's forces from continuing attacks on innocent civilians and rebel forces in Libya, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during interviews on television talk shows that aired today.
Gates appeared with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour," and CBS' "Face the Nation." They discussed progress made during Operation Odyssey Dawn, which established a no-fly zone over Libya. The operation was launched March 19 by U.S. and coalition forces to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution to protect the Libyan people from Gadhafi’s forces.
"We prevented the large-scale slaughter that was beginning to take place," Gates said. "We made a lot of progress on the humanitarian side, and [Gadhafi's] ability to move armor toward [several cities] has pretty well been eliminated. He has ground forces at his beck and call, but they're under a lot of pressure."
The goal for the U.S. military was to establish a mission in Libya that could be accomplished in a limited period of time and then be sustained, he said.
"I think the military mission has gone quite well,” he said. “There was never any doubt in my mind that we could quickly establish a no fly-zone and suppress [Gadhafi's] air defenses."
Gates said it's uncertain what will determine the ultimate outcome in Libya, particularly as international pressure continues and if Gadhafi’s supporters see no future staying with him, Gates said.
"We can see elements of his military turning, saying 'This is a no-win proposition,' and the family is splitting," the secretary said, adding that some former Gadhafi supporters have joined the opposition.
Defense officials "are already [planning] in terms of beginning to draw down resources," Gates said. "That might not start in the next day or two, but I certainly expect in the near future."
Gates said the Defense Department will start diminishing the level of engagement and the level of resources the U.S. military has involved, at some point. However, as long as the no-fly zone exists and the Defense Department has "unique capabilities to bring to bear" -- such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and some tanking ability -- Gates said the U.S. will "continue to have presence."
He also noted that other U.S. troops are nearby in Europe and in the Mediterranean to provide support if they are needed, he said.
How long the overall mission in Libya might last, he said on "Face the Nation," is uncertain. "I don't think anybody knows the answer to that."
Though Libya is not a direct threat to the U.S., Gates said Ghadafi’s assault on his own people might have created a perilous situation, given the unrest taking place in neighboring Arab nations.
"With revolutions on both the east and west of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, [it could have been] a significant destabilizing event, that Libya put at risk potentially," Gates pointed out. "The revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt were a consideration we took into account."
When in Russia last week, Gates said he "pushed back" at comments made by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladamir Putin about the number of civilian casualties in Libya, after the U.S. and coalition forces established the no-fly zone.
"We have trouble coming up with proof of any civilian casualties that we have been responsible for," Gates pointed out. "But we do have a lot of intelligence reports of Gadhafi taking the bodies of people he's already killed and putting them at the sites where they've been attacked."
"We've been extremely careful," Gates said, "not just with our pilots, but the pilots of other coalition air forces," to avoid such casualties on the ground.