U.S. sending Navy ships, Marines for humanitarian efforts in Libya
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he's sending two warships and 400 Marines to the region to aid in any 'emergency evacuations and also for humanitarian relief,' but he urges caution on any military role in Libya.
By David S. Cloud, Washington Bureau
March 1, 2011, 4:07 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday he was dispatching two warships and 400 Marines as a humanitarian response to the crisis in Libya, but he cautioned that U.S. military intervention should be carefully considered.
"The kinds of options that have been talked about in the press and elsewhere also have their own consequences," Gates said on Tuesday, referring to calls for a no-fly zone and other possible steps to halt attacks by Moammar Kadafi's forces on rebels. "They need to be considered very carefully."
Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said at a Pentagon news briefing that the Defense Department was examining a wide range of military options but said no decision had been made on executing any of them.
U.S. officials say that any U.S. role in Libya is likely to be part of a multinational coalition and confined, at least for the moment, to assistance in humanitarian or evacuation operations.
"All of the options beyond the humanitarian assistance and evacuation are complex," Gates said. Shifting U.S. forces to deal with Libya could affect U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, he said.
"We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East," he said.
Mullen said that a no-fly zone over Libya would be a "complex" operation and he echoed statements by other military officers that it could require a bombing campaign to eliminate the threat from Libya's air defense system.
"If we were to set it up," Mullen said, "we'd have to work our way through doing it in a safe manner and certainly not put ourselves in jeopardy in doing that."
Gates noted that there were divisions among members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization about what to do about the violence in Libya. Also, the United Nations has not authorized use of force by members in response to the crisis, he said.
The two Navy vessels dispatched by Gates, the Kearsarge and the Ponce, "will be entering the Mediterranean shortly and will provide us a capability for both emergency evacuations and also for humanitarian relief," Gates said. The 400 Marines are headed to the Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, to replace some of the troops that left the ship recently to go to Afghanistan.
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