A Tug Of War Over U.S. Military Options In Libya

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, shown departing from Naval Station Norfolk on Jan. 13, is now in the Red Sea, with its dozens of warplanes, waiting to see if it's needed for any Libyan operation. i i

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, shown departing from Naval Station Norfolk on Jan. 13, is now in the Red Sea, with its dozens of warplanes, waiting to see if it's needed for any Libyan operation. U.S. Navy/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption U.S. Navy/Getty Images
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, shown departing from Naval Station Norfolk on Jan. 13, is now in the Red Sea, with its dozens of warplanes, waiting to see if it's needed for any Libyan operation.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, shown departing from Naval Station Norfolk on Jan. 13, is now in the Red Sea, with its dozens of warplanes, waiting to see if it's needed for any Libyan operation.

U.S. Navy/Getty Images

As Libyan aircraft and soldiers continue to attack anti-government rebels, political pressure is mounting for the U.S. and its allies to take action.

Already, U.S. military cargo planes are taking part in a humanitarian mission, bringing in supplies to Tunisia and evacuating refugees caught up in the fighting across the border.

NATO surveillance planes have increased patrols near Libya, monitoring that government's military moves. And U.S. officials and their NATO counterparts will meet on Thursday to discuss a possible no-fly zone.

'A No-Fly Zone Is A Possible Answer'

The carrier USS Enterprise was supposed to head east to the Arabian Sea to take part in the air war in Afghanistan. Instead, it's afloat farther west in the Red Sea, with its dozens of warplanes, waiting to see if it's needed for any Libyan operation.

"We come from the sea. We don't ask permission where we put our airfields. We put them where they're needed," the Navy's top officer, Adm. Gary Roughead, told lawmakers about the flexibility of an aircraft carrier.

"We are a very good option," Roughead added, "but there are other factors that I think leadership would have to take into account."

Factors like: What's the mission? Right now, it's pretty much a humanitarian one.

But the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, says alliance defense ministers will consider military options beyond NATO's increased surveillance flights.

"A no-fly zone is a possible answer; it can't be the answer. A no-fly zone is not going to answer all our questions. It's not going to solve all our problems that we confront in Libya," Daalder says.

One reason is that a no-fly zone will do nothing to prevent Libyan helicopters or tanks from attacking the rebels.

Concerns About 'Mission Creep'

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the United States and its allies should at least prepare a no-fly zone, and put it in place only with international approval — such as a United Nations resolution.

But the Pentagon has been resisting.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has argued that a new mission in Libya could further stretch an American military already engaged in two wars.

"If we move additional assets, what are the consequences of that for Afghanistan, for the Persian Gulf? Those are some of the effects that we have to think about," Gates has said.

Some military officials are less worried than Gates about a possible Libyan operation. They doubt a no-fly zone would last as long as the one in Iraq, which went on for a dozen years.

Still, a no-fly zone can evolve into more commitments that require a greater amount of time. It's called "mission creep" — you go in to do one thing and you end up doing another.

"You set up a no-fly zone — that's one part. Then the next step, you say you're going to insert, say, U.N. troops. Then you have to be able to logistically support them," says retired Army Lt. Gen. Gus Pagonis, who was in charge of U.S. logistics for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

  • Libyan rebels watch smoke rising from an oil pipe just outside the town of Ras Lanuf, where many anti-regime fighters retreated after artillery and airstrikes from government troops Wednesday.
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    Libyan rebels watch smoke rising from an oil pipe just outside the town of Ras Lanuf, where many anti-regime fighters retreated after artillery and airstrikes from government troops Wednesday.
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  • Refugees who fled Libya bathe in the Choucha refugee camp, near the Tunisian border town of Ras Jdir on Tuesday. The Red Cross and the United Arab Emirates plan to build two new camps on Tunisia's border. An estimated 100,000 mainly foreign migrants have crossed from Libya into Tunisia since Feb. 20, Tunisian officials said.
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    Refugees who fled Libya bathe in the Choucha refugee camp, near the Tunisian border town of Ras Jdir on Tuesday. The Red Cross and the United Arab Emirates plan to build two new camps on Tunisia's border. An estimated 100,000 mainly foreign migrants have crossed from Libya into Tunisia since Feb. 20, Tunisian officials said.
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  • An injured rebel fighter is brought to a hospital in Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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    An injured rebel fighter is brought to a hospital in Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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  • Rebel fighters run for cover as an air force jet drops a bomb on the outskirts of the oil-rich town of Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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    Rebel fighters run for cover as an air force jet drops a bomb on the outskirts of the oil-rich town of Ras Lanuf on Tuesday.
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  • Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives at a hotel to give television interviews in Tripoli on Tuesday.
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    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives at a hotel to give television interviews in Tripoli on Tuesday.
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  • Volunteers work on anti-Gadhafi banners at the newly set-up media center in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Libyan activists provide technical support and documents to journalists.
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    Volunteers work on anti-Gadhafi banners at the newly set-up media center in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Libyan activists provide technical support and documents to journalists.
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  • A mourner kneels over the grave of a relative recently killed in a battle between rebel fighters and forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for control over the town of Bin Jawad, Libya, on Monday.
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    A mourner kneels over the grave of a relative recently killed in a battle between rebel fighters and forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for control over the town of Bin Jawad, Libya, on Monday.
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  • Rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an air force fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf, Libya.
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    Rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an air force fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf, Libya.
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  • A rebel fighter shouts from his anti-aircraft machine gun position as he sees a fighter jet flying over at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf on Sunday.
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    A rebel fighter shouts from his anti-aircraft machine gun position as he sees a fighter jet flying over at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf on Sunday.
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  • Thousands of pro-Gadahfi Libyans gather in Tripoli's Green Square on Sunday to celebrate victories over rebel forces.
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    Thousands of pro-Gadahfi Libyans gather in Tripoli's Green Square on Sunday to celebrate victories over rebel forces.
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  • Moroccan expatriates arrive Sunday in the northern Moroccan port of Tangiers on a boat from the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Libya. Some 4,000 expats were repatriated by Moroccan authorities.
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    Moroccan expatriates arrive Sunday in the northern Moroccan port of Tangiers on a boat from the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Libya. Some 4,000 expats were repatriated by Moroccan authorities.
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  • A rebel fighter stands at a checkpoint Saturday in Ras Lanuf, where up to 10 people were killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes between opposition forces and Gadhafi loyalists.
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    A rebel fighter stands at a checkpoint Saturday in Ras Lanuf, where up to 10 people were killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes between opposition forces and Gadhafi loyalists.
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  • Libyan rebels gather for prayer on March 4. Loyalist forces have launched a fresh air strike on opposition territory in the east, while pumped-up opposition fighters pushed forward the frontline against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
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    Libyan rebels gather for prayer on March 4. Loyalist forces have launched a fresh air strike on opposition territory in the east, while pumped-up opposition fighters pushed forward the frontline against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
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  • A Libyan rebel fighter fires his rifle in the air at Ajdabiya's west gate on Friday.
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    A Libyan rebel fighter fires his rifle in the air at Ajdabiya's west gate on Friday.
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  • Thousands of Bangladeshi refugees who fled Libya stand in a miles-long line as they walk to a refugee camp in Tunisia on Friday.
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    Thousands of Bangladeshi refugees who fled Libya stand in a miles-long line as they walk to a refugee camp in Tunisia on Friday.
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  • Trash fires burn at a border area in Tunisia on Thursday, where migrant workers from Libya are living in squalid conditions. Tunisia's situation is quickly turning into a humanitarian emergency as the country is overwhelmed with refugees.
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    Trash fires burn at a border area in Tunisia on Thursday, where migrant workers from Libya are living in squalid conditions. Tunisia's situation is quickly turning into a humanitarian emergency as the country is overwhelmed with refugees.
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  • President Obama said on Thursday that he has authorized the use of U.S. military aircraft to move Egyptian refugees fleeing Libya to Tunisia.
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    President Obama said on Thursday that he has authorized the use of U.S. military aircraft to move Egyptian refugees fleeing Libya to Tunisia.
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  • Libyan rebels in the northeastern city of Ajdabiya celebrate reports that the counterattacks led by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have failed, on March 2.
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    Libyan rebels in the northeastern city of Ajdabiya celebrate reports that the counterattacks led by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have failed, on March 2.
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  • Thousands in Libya wait to cross into Tunisia via the Ras Jedir border crossing on Wednesday. The UN refugees agency has made a plea to end the gridlock at the Tunisia border.
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    Thousands in Libya wait to cross into Tunisia via the Ras Jedir border crossing on Wednesday. The UN refugees agency has made a plea to end the gridlock at the Tunisia border.
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  • Gadhafi drives away in an electric golf cart after speaking in Tripoli on Wednesday after addressing supporters and the media.
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    Gadhafi drives away in an electric golf cart after speaking in Tripoli on Wednesday after addressing supporters and the media.
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  • Defected Libyan soldiers stand guard outside an army base in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya, on Tuesday. Eastern cities are free from government control, but fighting continues around the capital Tripoli, controlled by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
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    Defected Libyan soldiers stand guard outside an army base in the eastern town of Ajdabiya, Libya, on Tuesday. Eastern cities are free from government control, but fighting continues around the capital Tripoli, controlled by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
    Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP
  • Rebels celebrate Sunday in the streets of Benghazi, no longer under the control of Gadhafi's government.
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    Rebels celebrate Sunday in the streets of Benghazi, no longer under the control of Gadhafi's government.
    Hussein Malla/AP
  • A Libyan insurgent soldier displays heavy-caliber ammunition, allegedly intended to be used against civilians in Benghazi on Sunday.
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    A Libyan insurgent soldier displays heavy-caliber ammunition, allegedly intended to be used against civilians in Benghazi on Sunday.
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  • Crowds celebrate in Benghazi on Saturday, still demanding Gadhafi's removal from power.
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    Crowds celebrate in Benghazi on Saturday, still demanding Gadhafi's removal from power.
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  • Libyans stomp on a defaced billboard of Gadhafi during a demonstration against his regime in the city of Tobruk on Saturday.
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    Libyans stomp on a defaced billboard of Gadhafi during a demonstration against his regime in the city of Tobruk on Saturday.
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  • A Libyan border guard walks through an empty customs hall on the Libya-Egypt border on Thursday.
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    A Libyan border guard walks through an empty customs hall on the Libya-Egypt border on Thursday.
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"Mainly, it's how long will you do it for?" Pagonis says. "I mean, we can do anything for a short period."

Other Options?

Other military options are being floated already.

Kerry told CBS: "One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time."

Some have made calls to arm the rebels, including Steve Hadley, who served as national security adviser under President George W. Bush.

"Maybe even covertly starting to get some weapons to the rebels so they can create their own no-fly zone rather than the United States have to do it," Hadley told CNN.

And there are still more ideas: Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula says Libyan aircraft could be targeted themselves with U.S. cruise missiles from sea.

That, he says, would make Libyan pilots think twice about hopping into their MiG fighters.

"You're a member of an aircraft attack squadron and you come to work the next day and half your squadron is destroyed on the ramp, you're probably not going to want to go out and fly again," he says.

That kind of talk makes Gates nervous. He told lawmakers that even a no-fly zone is actually an act of war, because Libya's radar and missile sites would have to be destroyed before U.S. planes started their patrols.

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