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US repositions forces near Libya: Pentagon

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 28, 2011
The US military is moving naval and air forces into position around Libya, the Pentagon said Monday, as Western countries weigh possible intervention against Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

"We have planners working various contingency plans, and I think it's safe to say as part of that we're repositioning forces to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters.

The redeployment of "naval and air forces" would give US President Barack Obama a range of options in the crisis, said Lapan, without specifying what ships and aircraft had been given orders or what potential action was under consideration.

As Kadhafi's troops assaulted opposition forces, US and European leaders were weighing the use of NATO air power to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to stop Kadhafi from using air strikes against his own people.

For any military intervention featuring air power, US commanders could turn to the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier, which is currently in the Red Sea, as well as the amphibious ship the USS Kearsarge, which has a fleet of helicopters and about 2,000 Marines on board.

As of Monday, the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise had moved to the north of the Red Sea, near the Suez Canal, according to the US Navy's website.

As recently as last week, the carrier was in the Gulf of Aden, when it was part of a naval force tracking a pirate attack on a US yacht. The ship had passed through the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean earlier this month on its way to the Arabian Sea.

Apart from a possible no-fly zone, Western nations were also looking at setting up a humanitarian "corridor" in neighboring Tunisia or Egypt to help refugees, the New York Times reported Sunday.

The Obama administration also was discussing whether the American military could disrupt communications to prevent Kadhafi from broadcasting in Libya, the Times wrote.

US and NATO bases in Italy could serve as potential staging areas for any action against Libya, including the US Sixth Fleet command near Naples.

The American military was preparing for a range of possible options but no final decision had been taken, a defense official said.

"We're very much in an exploratory phase right now," a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an interview published last week, said that France and Italy could be better placed to enforce a no-fly zone.

"The French -- I don't know what the British have in the area -- but the French and the Italians potentially, I suppose, could have some assets they could put in there quicker," he told The Weekly Standard magazine.

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