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Gates outlines US war strategy on Libya

US defence secretary Robert Gates threw some light on the latest US thinking on LIbya. Talking to journalists en route to Russia, Gates made these points: A) Operationally, imposition of no-fly zone per se needs to begin with an attack on Libya. Therefore, air strikes are within the scope of Resolution 1973. B) Future operations should be within the mandate of R-1973 or else the consensus over it may come under strain. C) Mission has a diverse coalition and adding new objectives would “create a problem”. D) Therefore, establish no-fly zone and “accomplish the mandate” and thereafter bring in additional pressures such as sanctions, ICJ and so on. E) Arab League has a problem working under NATO, therefore, a via media needs to be found so that NATO command and control machinery is used without it being a NATO mission as such – “without a NATO flag”. F) Getting too involved in the conflict is unwise, let matters be left to Libyans. G) No ‘boots on the ground”. Period. H) US is providing “unique capabilities” at the front-end of operations, which will be over “in a matter of days”, following which primary responsibility will be with others in the coalition. “We will have a military role in the coalition, but will not have the preeminent role.” I) There is continuing “strong indications from several Arab states that they would participate.” J) Difficult to forecast future developments. US is averse to a break-up of Libya and “I don’t think we ought to do anything to encourage partition or division.” 

The backdrop to G’s briefing is relevant. A consensus on military intervention proved elusive even after marathon sessions at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Turkey remains averse to military intervention and it has the power to veto any NATO decision. Arab League is prevaricating. In short, US, UK and France are out on a limb at the moment. Despite Gates’ optimism, Arab League SG Amr Moussa said Sunday, “What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing civilians.” 
Gates was also assuaging growing disquiet in US that America might blunder into another quagmire. Republican Representative Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said: “I am concerned that the use of military force in the absence of clear political objectives for our country risks entrenching the United States in a humanitarian mission whose scope and duration are not known.”

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