US to hand over Libyan operation command to France or UK

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Washington, Mar 21: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates today said that his country expects to hand over the leadership of the military operations against Libyan regime to a coalition likely to be headed by either the French, the British or NATO in a matter of days.

"I think that there are a couple of possibilities: one is British and French leadership, another is the use of the NATO machinery and I think we just have to work out the command and control that is most accommodating to all of the members of the coalition," Gates told reporters travelling with him to Russia.

Claiming a "strong and successful" start of the operation ''Operation Odyssey Dawn'' in Libya, he said several Arab countries are planning to joint the military coalition.

He conceded that Arab nations are reluctant to work under the command and control structure of NATO forces, so this would be kept in mind while deciding the leadership of the coalition.

"I think that there is a sensitivity on the part of the Arab League to being seen to be operating under a NATO umbrella, and so the question is if there is a way we can work out NATO's command and control machinery without it being a NATO mission and without a NATO flag and so on," Gates said.

Reiterating that there would be no US boots on the ground in Libya, Gates said but it is pretty clear that the US agreed to use its unique capabilities and the breadth of those capabilities at the frontend of this process, and then it expects "in a matter of days" to be able to turn over the primary responsibility to others.

"We will continue to support the coalition. We'll be a member of the coalition. We will have a military role in the coalition, but we will not have the preeminent role," he said.

US President Barack Obama, he said, felt strongly about limiting the scale of US military involvement in this operation.

"He's more aware than almost anybody of the stress on our military. But these naval and air assets that we can bring to bear have clearly played an important role here at the frontend and we will continue to play a role, but we will be one of a number of partners beginning, I hope, in a few days," he said.

Gates said all countries probably would like to see Libya remain a unified state. Having states in the region begin to break up because of internal differences is a formula for real instability in the future, he observed.

"So I think trying to keep these states as unified states as they have been for some period of time is important.

I don''t think we ought to do anything to encourage partition or division of these countries. I think that would be a real formula for enduring instability," he argued.

US-led Western forces have unleashed over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles on military targets in Tripoli and along the Mediterranean coast in last two days.

PTI

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