29 Mar 2011

Obama pledges limited US role in Libya

6:30 pm on 29 March 2011

United States President Barack Obama has sought to reassure Americans that the US role in Libya's conflict will be limited.

Western forces led by the US, France and Britain began air attacks on Libyan government troops on 19 March in order to enforce a United-Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and protect civilians.

In a televised address on Monday, Mr Obama said it was in the country's national interest for the US to be involved in the fighting and that military actions have stopped Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's troops from advancing.

He stressed, however, that though American forces had led the initial air strikes, they would now hand over to NATO allies, which took full command of the military operation this week.

Mr Obama said the US has helped to prevent a massacre in Libya and would continue to work with other nations until Colonel Gaddafi relinquished power.

"We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gaddafi leaves power," he said.

He warned, however, that trying to oust Col Gaddafi by force could repeat the carnage of Iraq.

Meanwhile, Russia has renewed its expressions of concern, saying intervention in what it calls an internal civil war is not sanctioned by UN Security Council resolution 1973.

Libyans told to get ready for new era

Earlier, France and Britain called on Libyans to begin preparing for a new era without Colonel Gaddafi.

In a joint statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he must go immediately.

Mr Cameron said despite recent rebel successes on the ground, civilians remain extremely vulnerable.

"The situation of civilians in Misrata and Zintan is extremely grave, and the situations for civilians in other towns under the regime's control is also deeply concerning, with widespread reports of human rights abuses.

"But we have moved quickly and decisively over the last week and we will stick to our task as set out in the UN resolution and take all necessary measures to protect civilian life."

Meanwhile, Turkey has announced it will take over the running of the airport in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east of Libya.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyir Erdogan said an agreement has been reached so the airport can be used for the distribution of humanitarian aid, AFP reports.

Turkey's foreign ministry said a request was made by the rebels and it will send civilian and techincal personnel. It is not clear when the mission will begin.

Rebels' advance halted

Libyan government forces on Monday halted a rebel advance on Sirte, the birthplace of Colonel Gaddafi.

The rebels have seized a number of key coastal communities and important oil installations in recent days, including Ras Lanuf, Brega, Uqayla and Bin Jawad.

They are moving rapidly westwards and claimed they had seized Sirte, but the BBC says it is now clear their progress was halted before they reached it after coming under repeated ambush from government troops.

Reports said bombardments of the road between Bin Jawad and Nawfaliyah sent the rebels fleeing back towards Bin Jawad.

Heavy fighting has also been reported in the city of Misrata with Colonel Gaddafi's forces gaining partial control of the city.