By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 16, 2011 – American support is critical to the NATO-led mission in Libya and is having no significant operational impact on the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense and State department officials said in a new report to Congress.
Issued yesterday, the report details U.S. actions to date in support of a coalition of NATO and Arab allies enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions to protect the Libyan people.
The report, as described in a cover letter cosigned by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth L. King and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Joseph E. Macmanus, outlines the U.S. supporting role in Operation Unified Protector and the unique capabilities the U.S. military is contributing.
These include electronic warfare assistance; aerial refueling; strategic lift capability; personnel recovery and search and rescue; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support; a standby alert strike package and manpower support at three NATO headquarters.
As of June 3, the Defense Department’s cost for military operations and humanitarian assistance efforts in Libya was $715.9 million, the report said.
Support for the Libya mission is having no adverse impact on Operation New Dawn in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the report said.
“In some cases, forces were delayed in arriving in Iraq and Afghanistan [due to the Libya mission], but the operational impact was mitigated by forces already supporting those operations,” the report noted.
All forces initially diverted from other operations to support the Libya mission now have been replaced. The one exception is a single guided missile destroyer that is expected to be replaced this month, the report said.
Since March 31, when the United States turned over full command and control responsibility of Operation Unified Protector to NATO, three-quarters of more than 10,000 sorties have been flown by non-U.S. coalition partners, the report noted. In addition, all 20 ships enforcing the arms embargo are European and Canadian, and the “overwhelming majority” of strike sorties are being flown by European allies.
U.S. strikes are limited to the suppression of enemy air defenses and occasional strikes by Predator unmanned aerial vehicles against “a specific set of targets, all within the U.N. authorization, in order to minimize collateral damage in urban areas,” the report noted.
The coalition mission is showing progress, and the situation on the ground has “steadily improved” over the past few weeks for Libyan civilians under threat from Moammar Gadhafi’s troops. His forces “were halted at the gates of Benghazi and have since been driven back from several towns and cities across the country,” the report said.
In addition, growing international opinion is calling for Gadhafi to step down as the opposition-led Traditional National Council gains credibility and legitimacy while charting a post-Gadhafi political transition.
“This growing consensus and [Gadhafi’s] control of less and less of Libya indicate that his departure is only a matter of time,” the report says.
Ending U.S. support to the Libya mission now “would seriously degrade the coalition’s ability to execute and sustain” operations to protect Libyan civilians and enforce the no-fly zone and naval arms embargo authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution, the report noted.
“Cessation of U.S. military activities in support of [Operation Unified Protector] would also significantly increase the level of risk for the remaining allied and coalition forces conducting the operation,” the report said, likely causing some nations to withdraw from the operation.
Not having the assets and capabilities to sustain the mission through Sept. 27, as agreed to during the recent NATO defense ministerial, would have serious consequences for the alliance, the report said.
“NATO’s credibility would be damaged with significant consequences for U.S., European and global security,” the report said.