Obama: Lead role in Libya to be handed to allies in days

US president says goal of military operation not to oust Gaddafi, but US policy is that he "needs to go."

March 21, 2011 21:16
3 minute read.
President Obama

Obama 311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

US President Barack Obama said on Monday the United States expects to transfer the lead military role in Libya to other allies in a matter of days.

At a news conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Obama said the military objective in Libya is to guard civilians from attacks by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, not oust him from power.

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However, he said, US policy is that Gaddafi "needs to go."

Of the transfer in operations, Obama said: "We anticipate this transition to take place in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks."

Earlier on Monday, a senior official in Libya's rebel National Council said  it would not negotiate with Muammar Gaddafi to end the war.

"We are in a war of attrition this dictator has forced upon us," Abed al-Hafeez Ghoga told a news conference in Benghazi.

"Because of this we refuse to negotiate with him. We will see the end of him rather than negotiate. He is wanted internationally as a war criminal. He will be judged for his genocidal actions against his own people."

Both the US and Britain reiterated on Monday that Gaddafi is not the target of the operation in Libya, but rather the goal is to protect civilians, as was authorized in the UN resolution.

"It's not about regime change," senior White House official Ben Rhodes told reporters on an Air Force One flight from Brazil to Chile.

The head of Britain's armed forces also said on Monday that western military powers are not directly targeting Gaddafi in air strikes to enforce a United Nations resolution.

"Absolutely not. It's not allowed under the UN resolution and it's not something I want to discuss any further," General David Richards told the BBC.

The comments came after UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox said on Sunday that Gaddafi was potentially a target, while Foreign Secretary William Hague declined to be drawn on the issue when he spoke to BBC radio on Monday.

Officials in the Libyan capital Tripoli said a missile intended to kill Gaddafi had destroyed a building in his fortified compound over night.

Libyan government officials denied a report that one of Gaddafi's sons had been killed in the air strike.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday that the coalition had "largely neutralized" Libyan air defenses and a no-fly zone over the country is now in place,.

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Cameron said Britain, France, the United States and other nations had made good progress in achieving the aims of the military operation -- destroying Libyan air defenses and protecting civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Gaddafi.

"I can announce to the House (parliament) today that coalition forces have largely neutralized Libyan air defenses and that as a result the no-fly zone has effectively been put in place over Libya," Cameron told parliament.

Cameron added that NATO would eventually be taking command of the operation.

"Let me explain how the coalition will work -- it's operating under U.S. command with the intention that this will transfer to NATO," Cameron told parliament.

This would mean that all NATO allies who wanted to contribute to the mission would be able to.

"Clearly the mission would benefit from that and from using NATO's tried and tested machinery in command and control," he said.

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