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NATO Commander Says Libya May Need Foreign Stabilization Force

Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 29, 2011, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the US mission in Libya
Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 29, 2011, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the US mission in Libya

The top NATO military commander says Libya may need a foreign stabilization force if rebels supported by international airstrikes succeed in ousting the country's leader, Moammar Gadhafi. U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis made the comment in an appearance Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Admiral Stavridis says there has been no discussion at NATO of sending ground forces to stabilize Libya, but he believes it may be necessary.

"When you look at the history of NATO, having gone through this, as many on this committee have, with Bosnia and Kosovo, it's quite clear that the possibility of [the need for] a stabilization regime exists," he said.  "And so, I have not heard any discussion about it yet, but I think that history is in everybody's mind as we look at the events in Libya."

Admiral Stavridis cited the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995, which NATO leaders failed to prevent, as one reason they decided to act to stop Gadhafi's forces from taking the rebel headquarters city of Benghazi. President Barack Obama has said he will not send U.S. ground troops into Libya, and Admiral Stavridis said he is not aware of any NATO forces being deployed there so far.

The admiral came under repeated questioning by committee members about what some see as an inconsistency in the allied approach to Libya, which calls for an end to Gadhafi's rule but a military mission that does not specifically include that as a goal. 

Stavridis said he believes the two approaches will come together over time, but that any regime change will be initiated by the Libyan people, or by Gadhafi himself.

"By our participation in protecting the people of Libya, we create a safe and secure environment in which the people of Libya can make a determination, and that they then have the ability to undertake the kind of effort that would, in effect, create regime change, as we've seen in other nations in the Middle East," he said.

Admiral Stavridis said the military mission involves enforcement of the U.N.-mandated arms embargo and no-fly zone, the provision of humanitarian assistance and the protection of Libyan civilians from pro-Gadhafi forces. He predicted that the military operation, plus international diplomatic and financial pressure and attacks by the rebels, will likely result in Gadhafi's departure or overthrow.  

And he said even without the specific mission to oust Gadhafi, NATO forces are operating under sufficiently broad rules that they can attack wherever necessary in Libya.

"I think that any Gadhafi forces that are demonstrating hostile intent against the Libyan population are legitimate targets," said Stavridis.

Admiral Stavridis acknowledged that the international community still does not know much about the Libyans who are leading the rebellion. He said although there have been what he called "flickers" in intelligence reports indicating some of the rebel leaders have ties to al-Qaida, Hezbollah and other extremist groups, he does not believe there is a significant connection and that the leaders "are responsible men and women."

The admiral's' NATO forces have taken command of the arms embargo and no-fly zone enforcement from U.S. Africa Command, and he says NATO will take command of the humanitarian and protection of civilians effort within the next day or two. He praised the rapid creation of the international coalition that is involved in the operations, but he said he would like to see more involvement from Arab countries, beyond the aircraft and crews provided by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

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