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Libya bombing called successful; endgame unclear

Associated Press | 3/22/2011, 6:59 p.m.

“We’re very focused on the limited objectives that the president has given us and actually the international coalition has given us,” Mullen added.

Asked whether it was possible that the military goals might be met without Gadhafi being ousted, Mullen replied, “That’s certainly potentially one outcome.” He described the Libyan strongman as more isolated than ever, adding that Gadhafi is “going to have to make some choices about his own future” at some point.

The prospect of Gadhafi remaining in control of at least a portion of the country raises questions about how far the Obama administration and its European and other partners are willing to go with military force. Clinton said Saturday that although ousting Gadhafi is not an explicit goal of the campaign, his departure might be hastened as the conflict continues. Gadhafi has ruled Libya for more than 40 years.

Clinton said enforcement of the U.N. Security Council resolution that called on Gadhafi to cease firing on his own people will “make a new environment” in which people close to Gadhafi might turn against him.

“The opposition is largely led by those who defected from the Gadhafi regime or who formerly served it, and it is certainly to be wished for that there will be even more such defections, that people will put the future of Libya and the interests of the Libyan people above their service to Col. Gadhafi,” she said.

If the ultimate outcome of the military campaign is cloudy, so is the command arrangement. The Pentagon said Saturday that it is led by Ham, who as head of U.S. African Command is responsible for U.S. military operations in Libya and much of the rest of the continent. Beyond Gates’ remarks Sunday, officials have not said much about the plan to hand off responsibility for the military operation, dubbed Odyssey Dawn.

Libya’s claims of civilians among the dead from the strikes appeared to make Arab countries nervous, after the Arab League took the unprecedented step of calling for a no-fly zone. On Sunday, Arab League chief Amr Moussa criticized the missile strikes, saying they went beyond what the Arab body had supported.

“What happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives,” Moussa told reporters in Cairo. “What we want is civilians’ protection, not shelling more civilians.”

One of the more vocal skeptics in Congress, Sen. Richard Lugar, said he worries that the U.S. may have entered a conflict with unclear goals.

“We really have not discovered who it is in Libya that we are trying to support,” the Indiana Republican said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Obviously the people that are against Gadhafi, but who? In eastern Libya, for example, a huge number of people went off to help the Iraqis against the United States in a war that still is winding down.”

Asked about working with the rebels, and whether the coalition knows enough about them to forge a partnership, Gates said Libyans must ultimately resolve matters themselves.

Still, he added, “We certainly know a lot about Gadhafi, and that’s good enough for me.”

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.