Fri, Mar 25, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Arab countries on the sidelines in Libya campaign

AP, WASHINGTON

As the US’ NATO allies shoulder a greater share of the mission in Libya, the Arab countries that urged the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone are missing from the action.

Except for the small Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, which is expected to start flying air patrols over Libya by this weekend, no other members of the 22-member Arab League so far have publicly committed to taking an active role. The US has sold many of these countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, billions of dollars in sophisticated military gear over the past decade to help counter Iran’s power in the region.

In the latest round of attacks, the international coalition struck at Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s military sites with jet bombers and more than a dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles, a US defense official said yesterday.

Targets late on Wednesday and early yesterday included Qaddafi’s air defense missile sites in Tripoli and south of the capital, as well as an ammunition bunker south of Misrata and forces south of Benghazi, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Nearly a week into the campaign to prevent Qaddafi’s forces from attacking civilians, the US increased the pressure on its NATO allies to take command of the campaign, suggesting the US might even step away from its leadership role in a few days, even with the conflict’s outcome in doubt.

Officials said there was no absolute deadline to hand over front-line control to other countries, or for an end to all US participation. Still, with the costs of the campaign growing by the day and members of the US Congress raising complaints over the goals in Libya, the administration of US President Barack Obama wants its allies to take the lead role soon.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, an early skeptic of US military intervention in Libya, said Obama made clear from the start of the campaign on Saturday that the US would run it for only about a week.

In an exchange with reporters traveling with him in Cairo on Wednesday, Gates was asked if his comments meant the US had set a firm deadline of this Saturday for turning over command.

“I don’t want to be pinned down that closely,” Gates replied.

“But what we’ve been saying is that we would expect this transition to the coalition, to a different command and control arrangement, to take place within a few days and I would still stand by that,” he said.

A US Army general now oversees the campaign from Europe, and a US Navy admiral is the day-to-day commander from a floating command post off the Libyan coast.

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