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.

Hussein Malla/AP
An anti-Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi rebel, holds his anti-aircraft missile as he looks to the sky, in the oil town of Ras Lanouf, eastern Libya, Sunday, March 6, 2011.

As Libyan militiamen encounter rough going against the better-armed forces of Muammar Qaddafi, the calls for attacking Qaddafi’s air force are growing in the United States.

On Sunday, three prominent US senators – John Kerry, John McCain, and Mitch McConnell – expressed support for a no-fly zone to prevent Libyan jets and helicopters from attacking civilians and the anti-Qaddafi rebel fighters.

Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, ruled out the use of ground forces to topple the Libyan dictator.

But he suggested that “one could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time.”

Speaking on ABC News' "This Week," Sen. McCain said, “We can't risk allowing Qaddafi to massacre people from the air, both by helicopter and fixed-wing [aircraft]."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that a no-fly zone is “worth considering.”

Also Sunday, former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson called for a no-fly zone in Libya.

"Next week is going to be crucial and the most important step is the development of an internationally recognized no-fly zone,” he said on CNN’s "State of the Union."

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

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.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.