U.N. Council Votes For No-Fly Zone Over Libya

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The United Nations Security Council votes for a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya. Michele Norris speaks with NPR's Tom Bowman for the latest.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The United Nations Security Council has approved a no-fly zone and then some for Libya. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, spoke to reporters just after today's vote.

Ambassador SUSAN RICE (United Nations): This resolution should send a strong message to Colonel Gadhafi and his regime, that the violence must stop, the killing must stop and the people of Libya must be protected and have the opportunity to express themselves freely.

NORRIS: The measure calls for the use of all means necessary to protect civilians on the ground. The U.N.'s vote was quickly celebrated in streets of Benghazi, the city that Libyan rebels have made into their stronghold.

(Soundbite of cheering)

NORRIS: The question now is whether the action by the United Nations comes to late for the rebels. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now with the latest.

And Tom, what are the details of the no-fly zone?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, Michele, the important thing is this goes beyond a no-fly zone, and, as you mentioned, it calls for all necessary measures. This is not simply a way to keep Gadhafi's planes from flying. It's much, much more aggressive. And it allows the international community, in essence, to go after his tanks, his missiles, his armored vehicles that are really going after the rebels now, his helicopters as well. So we're going to see a lot more attacks of actual troops on the ground, I think.

NORRIS: And is the no-fly zone, perhaps, so extensive because there's been criticism that a no-fly zone wouldn't be effective and that it might be too late - too little, too late?

BOWMAN: That's right. A traditional no-fly zone, as we saw in Iraq and in the Balkans, really wouldn't do much in this situation at this point, because Gadhafi's forces have moved increasingly to the east, taken over the rebel areas, and now they're moving toward the city of Benghazi, the last rebel stronghold. So we move much beyond a no-fly zone and what it could do in this situation.

NORRIS: And anyone listening to this will wonder about the U.S. role in all of this. Will the U.S. take the lead as it has before in places like Iraq and the Balkans?

BOWMAN: You know, it's interesting. It doesn't seem like the U.S. would actually take the lead. France has been leaning forward on this. Their foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was at the U.N. and spoke forcefully about a no-fly zone and extra measures as well.

Now, the U.S. could provide, let's say, refueling planes, reconnaissance aircraft. It could use cruise missiles to take out some of the radar sites and missile sites of Gadhafi's forces, but there are plenty of F-16s and other warplanes the U.S. has in the region - in Italy, Britain and Germany - that could be used in the fight. But, at this point, we don't know what the U.S. role will be.

NORRIS: So possible things the U.S. might do. Are there things that the U.S. clearly is not interested in doing?

BOWMAN: Well, right. At this point, the U.S. could just provide assistance. It could provide refueling. It could provide reconnaissance. And we know that the - some Arab countries - Qatar and Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - could provide fighter aircraft for this, as well as the French. So on this - in this case, in this no-fly zone and more, we could see the U.S. play a subordinate role.

NORRIS: A no-fly zone's success is based in part on how it is enforced or whether it is enforced. What do we know about that, the enforcement of the no-fly zone?

BOWMAN: Well, again, the important thing is all necessary measures here. So it's going beyond the no-fly zone, and what we'd likely see is attacks of Gadhafi's ground forces, which are closing in on Benghazi. As the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said, we may only have days left, maybe only hours.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Tom Bowman.

Tom, thank you very much.

BOWMAN: Thank you, Michele.

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