Gaddafi forces pushed back, but still threat: Hillary

The US hails UAE, Qatar for offering support for military coalition in Libya.

Last Updated: Mar 25, 2011, 10:59 AM IST

Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Muammar Gaddafi`s troops "remain a serious threat" to Libyan civilians despite having been pushed back by rebel and allied military action.

Hillary on Thursday also praised the United Arab Emirates and Qatar for offering "crucial" Arab support for the military coalition in Libya, on a day of intense diplomacy which saw NATO agree to take control of coordinating a no-fly zone.

On the domestic front meanwhile, the White House pushed back at rising domestic political tension on the Libya operation, insisting it had repeatedly consulted key players in Congress before pressing the trigger.

Hillary emerged as the administration`s main messenger of the day after talks with President Barack Obama and other senior national security officials on the crisis at the White House.

"Gaddafi`s troops have been pushed back, but they remain a serious threat to the safety of the people," she said, summing up progress after an intense rolling program of air strikes against Gaddafi forces and military assets.

"After only five days we have made significant progress. A massacre in Benghazi was prevented, and Gaddafi`s air force and air defences have been rendered largely ineffective."

Hillary also announced that she would attend an international conference in London on Tuesday to decide next steps on the crisis, and reiterated Obama`s vow that the US lead in the action would be limited in time and scope.

To that end, NATO announced after intense discussions between key partners in the Libya strike force that it would take over the command and control role of a no-fly zone in Libya designed to protect civilians.

Yet in a sign of differences among key players in the effort, the Western alliance has yet to decide on whether to expand its role to include all necessary means to protect civilians on the ground.

Coalition air strikes in recent days have also targeted Libyan ground forces but Turkey, the only predominantly Muslim member of NATO remains uneasy about bombing missions on the ground in Libya.

Hillary and the White House also highlighted a boost in Arab support for the mission to shield civilians from Gaddafi`s air forces.

"We are deeply appreciative of their continuing contributions including aircraft and pilots from Qatar," Hillary said.

"This evening, the United Arab Emirates announced they are joining the coalition and sending planes to help protect Libyan civilians and enforce the no-fly zone. We welcome this important step," she said.

A US official said on the condition of anonymity that the UAE contributed 12 warplanes.

Hillary said the move underscored "the breadth of this international coalition and the depth of concern in the region for the plight of the Libyan people”.

The White House also hailed the "critical participation" of the UAE, which it said had been a leader on the Libya crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League.

"We look forward to continuing to work closely with the UAE and all of our regional and international partners," said Obama`s spokesman Jay Carney.

Hillary added that humanitarian relief is beginning to reach the people who need it in Libya but that it was too early to relax the pressure on Gaddafi.

"This operation has already saved many lives, but the danger is far from over.”

"As long as the Gaddafi regime threatens its people and defies the United Nations, we must remain vigilant and focused."

The White House meanwhile rejected claims that it had not sufficiently consulted with Congress over the intervention, detailing a long list of engagements, meetings and testimony by senior officials on Capitol Hill.

It argued the situation late last week was too serious to wait until lawmakers returned to Washington on Monday to allow a more formal set of consultations.

"Had we waited for Congress to get back, there is no question, I think, in anybody`s minds ... that Gaddafi`s forces would control Benghazi and there would have been a great deal of people killed in the process," said Carney.

Yet in a sign of the high political sensitivity in of the Libya operation, Carney preferred not to call the conflict a "war" since such a designation could spur more demands for a formal congressional authorisation.

The operation was a "time-limited, scope-limited military action, in concert with our international partners, with the objective of protecting civilian life in Libya from Muammar Gaddafi and his forces," Carney said.

Bureau Report