By Sam Youngman - 03/21/11 07:19 PM EDT
Speaking to reporters in Chile, Obama said the U.S. has taken the early lead in air and sea strikes, but added that a transition will take place soon that will see other countries in the international coalition taking the lead.
Obama said that the transition will take place on "the recommendations of our commanding officers that the first phase of the mission has been accomplished."
He repeatedly defended his decision to intervene, saying that when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi pledges to show "no mercy" to Libyan rebels, "we can't simply stand by with empty words."
"We have to take some sort of action," Obama said.
And despite wavering from the Arab League, whose support the White House viewed as critical to the campaign, Obama said that Arab countries will "absolutely" be involved in the operation as it goes forward.
"We are in consultations as we speak," Obama said, adding that there will be "different phases to the campaign."
The president said that "it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go," and stated that sanctions and other policies amount to "a wide range of tools to support that policy."
Obama did not wade into the increasingly thorny issue of congressional support, focusing instead on the role the U.S. has and will play in the international effort.
The president again said that the U.S. took a leading role in the strikes because of "unique capabilities" to neutralize Gadhafi's air defense systems and protect the civilian population.
As he has since the start of the unrest in Libya, Obama emphasized that it is the international community, not the U.S. alone, that is working to stop Gadhafi from using violence against his own people.
Obama noted that the United Nations Security Council "provided a broad mandate to accomplish that specific task."
"We are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate," Obama said.
Obama said that the international effort ensures that other nations are "bearing the burden of following through on the mission as well."
The president said that "obviously our military is already very stretched," and the international effort helps alleviate the burden on U.S. forces.
But the president said U.S. forces have been successful in the early going, as the "initial thrust has disabled Gadhafi's air defenses."
"I could not be prouder of the manner in which the U.S. military has performed over the last several days," Obama said.