By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2011 – Though the situation in Libya remains fluid, the country is at a tipping point and the last hours of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime are at hand, President Barack Obama said today.
The president spoke from Blue Heron Farm on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where he has been following the situation in the Libyan capital of Tripoli during a vacation.
NATO officials do not know where Gadhafi is, the president said, and the situation on the ground is complicated. “But this much is clear: the Gadhafi regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people.”
As part of the Arab Spring revolts, the people of Libya took to the streets to end Gadhafi’s 42-year long dictatorship. While the people of Tunisia and Egypt were successful in toppling their leaders, Gadhafi sent the army after protesters in Libya. The United States, the NATO alliance and Arab partners acted to prevent a wholesale slaughter of innocent Libyan men, women and children in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the seat of the revolt.
“In the early days of this intervention, the United States provided the bulk of the firepower, and then our friends and allies stepped forward,” Obama said. “The Transitional National Council established itself as a credible representative of the Libyan people. And the United States, together with our European allies and friends across the region, recognized the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya.”
NATO’s Operation Unified Protector cut the regime off from arms and cash, and airstrikes steadily degraded Gadhafi’s military force. “From Benghazi to Misurata to the western mountains, the Libyan opposition courageously confronted the regime, and the tide turned in their favor,” Obama said.
Over the past 48 hours, the rebels, who fought for their lives in Benghazi in March, moved into the capital. “For over four decades, the Libyan people had lived under the rule of a tyrant who denied them their most basic human rights,” the president said. “Now, the celebrations that we’ve seen in the streets of Libya show that the pursuit of human dignity is far stronger than any dictator.”
Still the fighting is not over. As the regime collapses, regime units reportedly have been threatening to continue fighting. “Although it’s clear that Gadhafi’s rule is over,” Obama said, “he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for the sake of Libya.”
The president pledged to help the TNC as it takes on the duties of government. “I’ve directed my team to be in close contact with NATO, as well as the United Nations, to determine other steps that we can take to deal with the humanitarian impact,” he said. “We’re working to ensure that critical supplies reach those in need, particularly those who have been wounded.”
The president praised the efforts of American service members for their contributions to the effort over Libya and in the Mediterranean.
“We also pay tribute to Adm. Sam Locklear [commander of Allied Joint Force Command], and all of the men and women in uniform who have saved so many lives over the last several months, including our brave pilots,” he said. “They’ve executed their mission with skill and extraordinary bravery, and all of this was done without putting a single U.S. troop on the ground.”
The president praised NATO for demonstrating again that it is the most capable alliance in the world, and he also praised the Arab nations who opposed Gadhafi. “Their actions sent a powerful message about the unity of our effort and our support for the future of Libya,” he said.
More than 5,300 American sorties have been flown as part of Operation Unified Protector; 1,210 were strike sorties and 101 were Predator unmanned aerial vehicle strikes. The targets included air defenses, arms caches and ground forces.
The estimated cost to the Defense Department for Libya operations was about $820 million through June 30, said Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. This cost includes amounts for daily military operations, munitions used in the operation, and humanitarian assistance, he explained.
From the beginning of the NATO operation through Aug. 19, the United States has sold participating allies and partners about $221.9 million worth of ammunition, repair parts, fuel and technical assistance.
The department has spent about half of a $25 million fund to get nonlethal aid to the Transitional National Council. This is the value of the aid only, Lapan said. DOD has received no additional requests, he added, but will continue to work with the TNC to determine what additional assistance the transitional government may need.