General: No-fly zone not enough to reverse Libyan fighters’ gains

A no-fly zone alone “would not be sufficient” to turn back gains made in recent days by military forces and other fighters backed by the Libyan regime, the Air Force chief of staff said Thursday.

The assessment by Gen. Norton Schwartz came under questioning from Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has for weeks pressed the Obama administration to set up a no-fly zone over Libya to assist opposition fighters and protect Libyan citizens.

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Schwartz told McCain the Air Force could do the mission, but added: “For me, the question is not can we do this, but should we and if so, how?”

McCain asked the air chief whether the prospect of being engaged by Air Force fighters and other U.S. military systems would alter the thinking of Libyan military pilots.

“Clearly, it would have an influence,” Schwartz said with a grin.

It would take “about a week” to establish a no-fly zone, the air chief told McCain. Doing so would require the air service to move aircraft from various places into the region, including Europe and the continental United States.

The U.N. is scheduled to vote as early as Thursday on a draft resolution for a no-fly zone, a move the Arab League has endorsed.

In a shift in the U.S. position, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Wednesday evening that measures that "perhaps go beyond" a no-fly zone, to protect Libyan citizens, should be considered. The U.S. had earlier taken a much more cautious stance.