UPDATED: UN Security Council OKs No Fly Zone
While the Air Force Chief of Staff says it will take a week to set up, the Obama administration has shifted its stance and now supports creation of a no-fly zone in Libya and would support air to ground strikes, apparently fearing a bloody showdown in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
The policy shift, as reported by Reuters, was signaled by Undersecretary of State William Burns during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in a Twitter message from U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice. Rice said,: "US view -- need to take steps beyond no-fly zone to protect civilians," she wrote.
Burns told the committee the US now supported "measures in Libya that are 'short of boots on the ground,' Reuters reported. And, in contract to earlier administration pronouncements that a no-fly zone would be military challenging and might not work, Burns told the committee that an international no-fly zone's impact could be "important, positive, practical."
Given the war in Afghanistan and the unfolding tragedies in Japan, a no-fly zone is sure to place strains on the Navy as it deploys at least one carrier group, reassigns some of its airborne assets to manage the airspace and figures out with the Air Force what electronic warfare tools will be needed.
In addition to the fact that the administration must act now or lose the chance to influence the Libyan situation, Burns told the Foreign Relations committee the administration worries Gaddafi may "return to terrorism and violent extremism."
The administration's shift was swift. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, the Air Force Chief of Staff told Sen. John McCain he thought a no-fly "would not be sufficient" now in Libya. McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman continued to press administration officials to create a "no-fly, no drive" zone this morning. It's unclear how much influence their and other legislators support for greater efforts in Libya has had on the administration. The Arab league voted earlier this week to support a no-fly zone, an unprecedented action for the body. Britain and France have pressed hard for intervention. NATO has remained fractured.
The UN vote on a no-fly zone is expected later today.