Obama pressured to back no-fly zone

Senators on the Armed Services panel on Tuesday pressed the
White House to aid Libyan rebels by setting up a no-fly zone.

While committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) sought to
defend President Obama’s cautious approach, other panel members were notably
hawkish about the American military seizing control of Libya’s skies.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has pressed for the
administration to consider using the U.S. military to set up the no-fly zone,
said Libyan air assets operate out of only four bases.

He called the Libyan regime’s air defense systems “modest,”
an opinion echoed by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

McCain and Lieberman made their comments during a hearing on
the Navy’s 2012 budget plan.

McCain and other lawmakers have criticized the Obama
administration for moving slowly to thwart the Libyan regime’s air strikes on
rebels, arguing the White House should arm the rebels while taking the lead on
a no-fly zone to prevent more Libyan strikes.

President Obama and the Pentagon have appeared to resist
those entreaties, with military leaders highlighting the air strikes necessary
to set up a no-flight zone. The White House is reportedly concerned that U.S.
military involvement could undermine the revolt by bringing in a Western

Military officials at the hearing walked a fine line, both
assuring the senators that U.S. forces could handle the mission and playing up their ability to conduct humanitarian assistance and medical tasks in

Lieberman suggested
setting up the no-fly zone would not be difficult, saying Libyan air bases are
located “on one strip of land … along the north coast.”

McCain called Libya’s surface-to-air missiles “Soviet-style,” seeming to suggest U.S. jets and munitions could easily destroy them.

The biggest threat, according to the panel’s ranking
Republican, would come from Libyan attack choppers.

Levin said Arab and African states might establish
control of Libya’s skies.

“It has been reported that some Arab states are apparently
considering coordinating with the African Union in support of imposing a no-fly
zone over Libya,” said Levin, who also noted France and the United Kingdom
are readying a resolution “for possible use at the United Nations.”

Levin said Obama is “appropriately seeking support from the
international community, in particular the support of other countries in the
Arab and Muslim worlds and in the region.”

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead told Sen.
Rodger Wicker (R-Miss.) a number of issues should be sorted out before
setting up a no-fly zone, including “that we would be entering into combat

Wicker interjected that Washington only would be “entering
into air combat operations.”

When Roughead added that U.S. forces have established no-fly zones
before and that a “significant infrastructure” is required to “back them up,” Wicker
replied: “Well, that’s available to us, right?”

The CNO said such details would have to be worked out,
should Washington opt to undertake the mission.

McCain pressed Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos on
whether Libya’s embattled regime has a big advantage over opposition fighters
because of its air assets.

Amos replied that, in general, the side with control of the
airspace has an advantage. “But I don’t know about [Libya’s] air force,”
he added.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told McCain the USS Enterprise
aircraft carrier is now in the Red Sea, but “no order” has yet been given to
move it into the Mediterranean.

Levin on Tuesday cited the War Powers Act, saying the
administration must consult with Congress “before exercising a military option
involving the use of force.”

This story was posted at 10:11 a.m. and updated at 12:00 p.m.

Tags Carl Levin John McCain

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