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Pressure mounts for no-fly zone in Libya

As Libyan rebels encounter rough going, the calls for attacking Muammar Qaddafi’s air force are growing in the United States. The Pentagon and the White House resist the idea.

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The idea has gotten top-level push-back from the Obama administration in recent days.

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Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee this past week, Defense Secretary Gates warned against “loose talk” on any US military intervention in the Libyan conflict, including imposition of a no-fly zone.

“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” he said. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”

At a Pentagon press conference, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that a no-fly zone would be “an extraordinarily complex operation to set up.”

“Lots of people throw around the phrase of ‘no-fly zone,’ and they talk about it as though it’s just a game, a video game or something, and some people who throw that line out have no idea what they’re talking about,” White House chief of staff William Daley said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program Sunday. “The president has said all options are on the table, but this has to be an international effort.”

But McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, contends that "these air assets that Qaddafi has are not overwhelming,” as he put it to "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour.

“I would like to point out their air assets are not large,” said McCain, a former Vietnam POW who knows first-hand what it’s like to be shot down in air combat. “Their air defenses are somewhat antiquated.”

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