Gates says Libyans, not West will determine fate

US defense secretary: Rebels "mainly fighting on their own"; Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli subject to air strikes, reports says.

March 23, 2011 22:29
2 minute read.
Air strike on Libyan government forces

Air strike on Libyan government forces 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

CAIRO - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday said it would be up to Libyans to determine their future, stressing the limits of U.S. involvement in what threatens to become a protracted civil war.

Gates arrived in Libya's neighbour Egypt as Western warplanes pounded Muammar Gaddafi's forces for the fifth night in a row.

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Gaddafi's compound in the capital Tripoli was subject to air strikes, Arabiya TV reported on Wednesday.

Gates, who had been a voice of caution in Washington in the run-up to military action in Libya, was in Cairo after a two-day trip to Russia that threw a spotlight on anxiety over coalition strikes on Gaddafi's air defenses and artillery.

Russia, China, India, Brazil and other developing countries have condemned air strikes as risky and unwarranted.

In Cairo, one Egyptian reporter drew comparisons to the 2003 Iraq invasion, which Gates swiftly rejected. Another journalist asked whether he would consider outside mediation to end the conflict, a possibility he dismissed.

"It seems to me that if there is a mediation to be done ... it is among the Libyans themselves. This matter at the end of the day is going to have to be settled by Libyans," Gates said. "It's their country."

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The US military, already stretched by years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, says it will hand over command of the operation to coalition allies in the coming days. Gates suggested that could happen as soon as Saturday, but refused to be pinned down to a date.

"The president has made clear that the United States is not going to have the lead on this operation for the longer term, and in fact for more than a week or so - from the beginning of the operation," he said.

The air strikes began on Saturday, March 19, after the United Nations authorized the use of military force to prevent Gaddafi from killing civilians.

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