President Obama has authorized the use of aerial drone strikes in Libya to aid rebels fighting to oust dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday.
Gates stressed that even though the United States will begin using the armed Predator drones in Libya, American soldiers will not be deployed to the country. He said the Libyan people will have to remove Gadhafi themselves, though the U.S. "can provide them with some cover from the air."
The announcement falls in line with the Obama administration's pledge to not put American boots on the ground to remove Gadhafi from power. Obama has called for Gadhafi to step down, and authorized military strikes to enforce a no-fly zone but has repeatedly said that the U.S. would not deploy ground forces to topple the regime.
After the United Nations passed a Security Council resolution approving a multinational no-fly zone over Libya in March, the United States briefly took the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone before NATO assumed command.
Gates said that as of Thursday the U.S. had two armed predator drones flying on missions in Libya.
"They are uniquely suited for areas — urban areas where you can get low collateral damage, and so we're trying to manage that collateral damage, obviously, but that's the best platform to do that with," Gates said. "They're out there for a full day working the targets."
The announcement by Gates comes a day after other nations in the multinational effort to remove Gadhafi from power announced that they were sending military advisers to help the rebels. On Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa announced that their respective nations were joining Britain in sending military advisers to help the rebels.
Gates said the U.S. will not be following in their footsteps.
"They're not our boots on the ground," Gates said. "We never made that commitment for anyone else."