LIBYA: U.S. Response — So Far (UPDATE)

March 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm Leave a comment

Debating a Libyan ‘No Fly Zone”

The heads of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps confirmed today that two Navy amphibious warfare ships with a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) have been stationed in the Mediterranean Sea close enough to Libya to take action if ordered by the White House.

Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said 400 Marines of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment have joined troops of the 26th MEU aboard the the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the U.S.S. Ponce. But he and Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said no plans for an immediate intervention have been made. In fact, they both pointed  out the logistical difficulties in imposing a No Fly Zone over Libya at a Senate hearing.

The USS Kearsarge and her V-22 helicopters. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley)

Answering questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Amos said the ships are equipped with AV-8B Harrier jump jets, attack and cargo helicopters, including V-22 Osprey tilt rotor helos, and landing craft.

Roughead, added that the vessels are equipped with missiles that can strike land targets, as well as medical teams and operating room facilities. “They’re quite well-loaded with humanitarian assistance supplies,” Roughead told the panel.

Amos said the ships and Marines are equipped to handle everything from “a raid, an amphibious assault to non-combat evacuation.”

But both commanders were reluctant to say creating a No Fly Zone over Libya would be relatively easy. The U.S. and other western nations as well as the United Nations and Arab states are divided over the wisdom of a No Fly Zone, according to Reuters.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the committee got Amos to acknowledge Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s air defenses are “modest.” The top Marine said the “greatest threat” was probably Libyan helicopters. McCain, who along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), has been advocating imposition of a No Fly Zone to prevent Qaddafi’s forces from attacking rebels and civilians in the eastern part of the country. The CBC and others report air attacks have blunted advances by rebels seeking to to topple Qaddafi, who has ruled Libya for more than 40 years.

McCain prodded Amos into confirming that Qaddafi’s air defense systems were mostly older Soviet-style surface-to-air missiles, at four air bases in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

But Amos said success for the warring Libyan parties relies on more than control of the airspace. “I think it’s more than aviation. It’s complicated,” Amos said.

A Harrier descending for a landing. (USMC photo By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon)

No one is saying a No Fly Zone is uncomplicated,” Lieberman during his turn questioning the Navy and Marine Corps leaders.

Roughead said there was no military-to-military communication between the U.S. and the Libyan rebels. He added that the aircraft aboard the Kearsarge and Ponce do not have the electronic warfare (EW) technology like that can jam Libyan air defense systems. The closest ship with EW-equipped aircraft is the carrier U.S.S. Enterprise currently in the Red Sea and there are no plans to shift the Big E to the Mediterranean, he said.

Roughead added that the Pentagon was monitoring the Libyan situation closely. Asked if the U.S. was flying round-the-clock surveillance flights over Libya, he replied: “We have been monitoring the fighting through a variety of means.

Before any action could take place, Roughead said a number of questions would have to be answered, such as what forces would be used to maintain the No Fly Zone, where would they be based and what were the rules of engagement. “We’ve done No Fly Zones before,” said the CNO, adding: “Significant infrastructure is required.”

Although the Senate last week unanimously passed a non-binding resolution calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a No Fly Zone, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been reluctant to get the U.S. military involved in another Middle Eastern country’s internal affairs.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia), a former Navy Secretary in the Reagan administration, said today that he agreed with Gates’ concerns. “I, for one, think it’s not a good idea to give weapons and support to people you don’t know,” he  said.

Entry filed under: Africa, International Relief, National Security and Defense, Special Operations, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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