U.S. tells Gadhafi to pull back from east Libya

By Bradley Klapper

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 18 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration demanded Friday that Moammar Gadhafi's forces immediately begin retreating from opposition-controlled areas in east Libya, as Britain and France rushed to enforce the world's demand for the Libyan regime to halt violence against civilian protesters and rebels seeking Gadhafi's ouster.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. wasn't impressed by the Libyan government's claim of a cease-fire, saying "we would have to see action on the ground — and that is not yet at all clear."

President Barack Obama summoned congressional leaders to the White House to confer on Libya and Obama planned to make a statement on the crisis later Friday.

Clinton said the first goal of international action is to end the violence in Libya and that the regime's forces need to pull back "a significant distance away from the east, where they have been pursuing their campaign against the opposition."

The larger objective remains Gadhafi's ouster.

Clinton's comments came after the administration and America's allies won an open-ended endorsement Thursday from the United Nations for military action in Libya, where Gadhafi's regime has led a bloody campaign to suppress dissent and eliminate any opposition to his 42-year rule.

The breakthrough at the U.N. Security Council came after days of cautious diplomacy from the administration and set the stage for airstrikes, a no-fly zone and other military measures short of a ground invasion to halt the violence in Libya and push Gadhafi from power.

Britain said Friday it will send Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets to air bases "in the coming hours" to prevent Gadhafi's forces from mounting air strikes against the rebels. France has also spoken on swift action, while Italy announced that it will allow its military bases to be used for the U.N.-backed military intervention.

The U.S. hasn't revealed what role it will play, but it has a vast array of naval and air forces in the region, some positioned there in recent weeks for a possible response to the fighting and resulting humanitarian crisis.

Among ships the U.S. has in the Mediterranean area are the nuclear-powered submarine USS Providence, equipped with Tomahawk missiles; the amphibious landing dock USS Ponce and amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, with a contingent of 400 Marines and dozens of helicopters; the command ship USS Mount Whitney and destroyers USS Mason, USS Barry and USS Stout.

The U.S. backing for international action comes after several administration officials questioned the plan for providing aerial cover, with the Pentagon perhaps the most vocal in its skepticism. It has described the no-fly zone as a step tantamount to war, and a number of U.S. officials have expressed fears that involvement in Libya could further strain America's already stretched military and entangle the country in an expensive and messy conflict in another Muslim country.

Clinton said the U.N. Security Council's 10-0 vote authorizing military action "sent a strong message that needs to be heeded," and that Gadhafi's refusal to hear the repeated calls for him to stop the bloodshed had forced the world to pursue military action.

Gadhafi "cannot continue his violence against his own people," she said after a meeting with Ireland's foreign minister. "He cannot continue to attack those who started out peacefully demonstrating for changes."

Clinton said the U.S. had seen the reports of a cease-fire by the Libyan government, but added that "we are going to be not responsive or impressed by words." She said the immediate objective of any intervention was to halt the violence against civilians, but insisted that the "final result of any negotiation would have to be the decision by Col. Gadhafi to leave."

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