US gearing up to pull some vessels from Libya drive

US official says removal will be gradual, not sudden; Sarkozy, Cameron say "Gaddafi must go now," adding there will be no occupation of Libya.

March 28, 2011 21:05
2 minute read.
Gaddafi forces pushing towards Benghazi

Gaddafi Forces 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON - The United States is planning to gradually remove some of the vessels it has in the Mediterranean now that NATO is taking command over the air strikes in Libya, a US military official said on Monday.

"There is planning out there to do that ... it will be more gradual than sudden," the official said on condition of anonymity.

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Earlier Monday, France and Britain called supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to drop him before it was "too late" and asked Libyans opposing him to join a political process to pave the way for his departure.

"Gaddafi must go immediately," President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron said in a joint declaration.

"We call on all his supporters to drop him before it is too late," they said, adding anybody against him should join a process for political transition.

Foreign ministers from coalition countries taking part in the UN-mandated operation in Libya will meet in London on Tuesday to discuss political strategies to help bring an end to Gaddafi's rule.

"We underline the fact that we do not envisage any military occupation of Libya," the statement said. "We reaffirm our firm commitment to sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya."

The joint statement repeated France and Britain's position that Gaddafi should stand down immediately, as his government has lost legitimacy, and it said the talks in London would be key to launching a long-term political solution for the North African oil producing nation.

It urged the Libyan National Council opposition group to open a national dialogue aimed at starting a transition towards constitutional reform and free and regular elections.

"We call on all Libyans who believe Gaddafi will lead Libya to ruin to mobilize immediately to create a transition process," the statement said.

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Meanwhile, fighting continued as Libyan rebels fired mortars and rounds from heavy machine guns in sporadic clashes Gaddafi's forces as they advanced westwards along the coast on Monday.

Aided by Western-led air strikes against Gaddafi's loyalists, the rebels took the town of Nawfaliyah and moved towards the Libyan leader's hometown of Sirte.

Just west of sandy, barren Nawfaliyah, bursts of sustained machine gun fire and the whoosh of several rockets could be heard, and plumes of black smoke rose ahead.

"Our guns are trying to get the Gaddafi people," said Faisal Bozgaia, 28, a hospital worker turned rebel fighter. "Those are from our guns," he told Reuters, pointing to the smoke columns.

Rebels said occasional ambushes by Gaddafi forces had pushed them back but that they later regained their positions.

"We were fighting here with Gaddafi forces. We are advancing one, two kilometers at a time," rebel Khalif Ali, 22, said in the town of Harawah, west of Nawfaliyah.

Contradicting a previous claim to have captured Sirte, a rebel spokesman in the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi said rebels were planning to enter the town Tuesday or Wednesday.

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