U.S., Allies Discuss Military Action Against Libya



This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

In Libya, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are continuing their attacks on rebel-held towns less than a day after Gadhafi's government declared a cease-fire. In Paris today, Secretary of State Clinton is meeting with key allies to plan possible military action in Libya. The U.S., France, Great Britain and others are set to give final approval for a no-fly zone over Libya but the details of how this military operation might work are unclear.

So, of course, we've turned to NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM BOWMAN: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And is it clear to you that diplomacy's over?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, I was at the Pentagon yesterday and as I was leaving I ran into a military official who'd been in meetings all day about Libya. And he said, you know, the key question is will Gadhafi accede to demands of the international community? They have specific list of what he must to do avoid military action by the U.S., France and the Arab country and others. And President Obama spoke about this yesterday at the White House. Let's listen to what he had to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misurata, and Zawiyah, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya. Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable.

SIMON: Which is pretty clear.

BOWMAN: It's very clear. And, again, effectively, will he do enough to avoid military action? Already today, he's had some statements to the French - very bold statements - that, you know, you can't attack me. He's been very mercurial, of course, for four decades.

And the French, interestingly, have been the most aggressive on this. They really want to take him out it seems. But the key thing also is the Arab allies: Qatar and United Arab Emirates, maybe even Jordan taking part in this operation. The United States has been very clear: we have to have serious Arab participation to make this happen.

SIMON: And outline what you would foresee as the U.S. role in military action. Is it just, I mean is it, forgive me, wingman to Britain and France?

BOWMAN: Well, it could very well be a wingman situation, but they say they've planned a range of options, everything from support all the way up to dropping bombs here.

And the Pentagon will tell you, listen, we're very stretched now. We're fighting two wars - Iraq and Afghanistan - we're helping out with the Japan situation; we have a number of warships over there. But, again, that said, we could see anything from the Pentagon. We could see them, for example, use the new F-22 fighter, the most sophisticated fighter in the world in this operation.

But what we're hearing mostly is a support-type of operation. And the U.S. would use, you know, their unique skills, their unique weaponry and support elements to really help in this. And the president hinted at this yesterday in his statement. Let's listen:

Pres. OBAMA: We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone.

SIMON: Now, help us understand unique capabilities. Because although certainly Britain and French and Arab League fighters of fighter jets train with U.S. forces all the time. They depend on the U.S. communications network, don't they?

BOWMAN: Communications network, refueling planes will be key as well. Flying from Italy and Corsica and maybe, you know, other areas in the Mediterranean. And these are essentially gas stations in the sky. So, the French, the British and the Arabs could pull up behind, get gas up and move on to Libya. AWACS planes are really important here. And they're sort of - it stands for Airborne Warning and Control System - it's a big air traffic controller that could tell you where the Libyan planes are and where the ally planes are.

Also, jammer aircraft - the Navy has a plane called the Growler, which could actually use an electronic pulse to zap out the radars in Libya. And another ting too, this could start - as most of these start - with cruise missiles coming from the sea - hundreds and hundreds of miles away to take out those radars, and more importantly, the missile sites. He has sophisticated Russian-made missiles.

SIMON: Does the U.N. mandate permit attacks on tanks and other ground forces?

BOWMAN: Yeah, this goes beyond a no-fly zone. They say use any and all measures to protect civilians, and they mention the city of Benghazi in particular, saying you have to do everything to protect Benghazi. So, this goes far beyond a no-fly zone.

SIMON: And the ultimate goal - there's no doubt about it at this point - the removal of Moammar Gadhafi?

BOWMAN: That's right. All leaders from Hillary Clinton to the French leaders, President Sarkozy, have said he has to go, that it's over for him. So, you know, this is clearly the move that they're trying to do here is to get rid of him.

SIMON: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.