The United States will cut its military role in the Libya no-fly zone in the next week or so and with other nations start to focus on how to ease Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi from power, top US officials said on Sunday.
In television interviews, the US secretaries of state and defence raised the possibility that Gaddafi’s regime could splinter and said a London conference on Tuesday would discuss political strategies to end his 41-year rule of the oil-exporting North African nation.
The United States and others began bombing Libya on March 19 to impose a no-fly zone to keep Gaddafi’s forces from attacking rebels and civilians in the east of the country, the latest Arab nation to see uprisings against authoritarian regimes.
Libyan rebels have pushed west to recapture more territory abandoned by Gaddafi’s retreating forces, which have been weakened by Western air strikes and, according to US defence secretary Robert Gates, are largely unable to move armour.
“His ability to move armour, to move toward Benghazi or a place like that, has pretty well been eliminated,” Gates told ABC’s This Week program in one of three joint interviews with secretary of state Hillary Clinton taped on Saturday.
Both spoke of a political push to try to find a way to ease Gaddafi from power, saying that this effort was gathering steam and it was possible more of Gaddafi’s associates, including in the military, would turn against him.
“We have things in our toolbox in addition to hammers... one should not underestimate the possibility of the regime itself cracking,” Gates told NBC’s Meet the Press program.
“Beginning this week or within the next week or so, we will begin to diminish the... [military] resources that we have committed to this,” he added, stressing US President Barack Obama had ruled out putting US ground troops into Libya.
“This, eventually, is going to have to be settled by the Libyans themselves - perhaps the UN can mediate or whatever - but in terms of the military commitment, the president has put some very strict limitations,” he added.
Clinton told NBC that the London conference, which she will attend, would “begin to focus how we are going to help facilitate such a transition of him leaving power.”