Gaddafi’s departure is the "ultimate goal": US

UNSC to meet amid intl Libya criticism


After coming under pressure for not spelling out its war aims in Libya, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration insisted Monday the goal is to see Muammar Gaddafi removed from power.

"We're trying to convince Colonel Gaddafi and his regime, and his associates, that they need to step down from power," said state department spokesman Mark Toner. "That remains our ultimate goal here."

Obama said in the run-up to military action in Libya that Gaddafi had lost his legitimacy to govern and must go, but those calls were overtaken as the U.S. forged a coalition to enforce a no-fly zone under a UN Security Council resolution.

Obama's statement came as the UN Security Council prepares for a closed-door meeting Libya amid rising international criticism of Operation "Odyssey Dawn."

Missile and air strikes launched over the weekend by U.S., British and French forces targeted Libyan air defense systems to impose a no fly zone on Gaddafi's forces, and on Sunday demolished a building in the Libyan leader's compound.

But on Sunday, the Arab League's Secretary General Amr Moussa expressed misgivings about the air strikes, even though the 22-member Arab body on March 12 called for a no fly zone and declared that Gaddafi had lost his legitimacy.

"What has happened in Libya differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone and what we want is the protection of civilians and not bombing other civilians," Moussa told reporters.

"From the start we requested only that a no-fly zone be set up to protect Libyan civilians and avert any other developments or additional measures," he added.

Moussa later said his comments had been misinterpreted but Germany, which along with four other members of the Security Council abstained from voting on the resolution, pointed his apparent second thoughts as vindication of its reservations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday slammed the resolution as "a medieval call to crusade" and testament to the U.S. tendency to use force against Third World countries.

Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India all abstained from the resolution authorizing the use of force.

NATO ready

NATO is ready to back up the international coalition intervening in Libya within "a few days," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Monday.

"The coordination of the intervention is being conducted by the United States in tight collaboration with France and Britain," Juppe told reporters on the sidelines of an European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

While NATO allies debated at a separate meeting what role the alliance may take in the conflict, Juppe said "NATO is willing to come in support (of the operation) within a few days."

He described the air and sea strikes launched by the international coalition at the weekend as a success.

"The initial success of our intervention is clear," Juppe told journalists. "If we had done nothing, Benghazi would be a bloodbath."

"We saved the civilians of Benghazi," he said of strikes against troops loyal to Gaddafi who had appeared poised to march on the eastern Libyan town, a rebel stronghold.

France, whose fighter jets launched the first salvos in the campaign against Gaddafi on Saturday, has resisted handing the baton to NATO, fearing a backlash from the Arab world if the alliance intervenes.

"Largely neutralized"

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the international coalition has "largely neutralized" Libyan air defenses and a no-fly zone over the country is now in place.

Cameron said Britain, France, the United States and other nations had made good progress in achieving the aims of the military operation -- destroying Libyan air defenses and protecting civilians from attacks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

"I can announce to the House (parliament) today that coalition forces have largely neutralized Libyan air defenses and that as a result the no-fly zone has effectively been put in place over Libya," Cameron told parliament.

According to a U.S. national security official, Gaddafi’s forces "pulled back" from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and two other towns after U.N.-authorized airstrikes, said on Monday.

The official, who declined to be identified, said advances by Gaddafi's forces against Benghazi, Ajdabiya and Misrata had "stalled" as a consequence of the military action by U.S. and European forces that began on Saturday.

But he said Gaddafi's forces remained active and the United States does not believe the Libyan leader is fulfilling promises to implement a cease-fire.