Britain and France have told supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to abandon him before it's 'too late.' US President Barack Obama said, with the lessons of Iraq in mind, that regime change was not the aim.
Rebel forces are steadily gaining ground
In a joint statement Monday, the leaders of France and Britain have called on pro-regime supporters of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to drop him before it was "too late."
"Gadhafi must go immediately," Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron declared.
NATO will now enforce the UN-mandated no-fly zone
They urged Gadhafi opponents to join together in a political process that would force his departure, appealing to the rebel National Transitional Council to work on a transition toward democracy.
In a televised statement from Washington late on Monday evening, US President Barack Obama said that Gadhafi's "deadly advance" had been stopped and that NATO, rather than the United States, would take control of military operations in Libya from Wednesday.
Responding to domestic questions on the reasons for US involvement, Obama said that the US and allies had "worked to avoid a massacre" in Benghazi, which would have been a "stain on the world's conscience."
He also said that regime change was not the aim. "To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq," he said.
"Regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives and nearly a trillion dollars. That’s not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."
On Tuesday, foreign ministers from 35 nations are scheduled to meet in London to discuss the progress of military action in Libya and plans for a post-Gadhafi future for the country.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said over the weekend that Italy was working on a proposal to bring to the conference in London that would include a ceasefire and exile for Gadhafi.
NATO takes over
After days of protracted talks on Sunday, NATO members agreed the organization should take over all military operations in Libya, including the enforcement of a UN-mandated no-fly zone.
Obama pledged the action would not carry the same burdens as Iraq
"Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gadhafi regime," said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "NATO will implement all aspects of the UN resolution. Nothing more, nothing less."
There had been some debate over whether NATO would take over ground operations as well as enforcement of the no-fly zone. Until now, forces led by the United States, France and Britain had been in charge of military operations.
On the ground in Libya, the rebels were said to be closing in on Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown, as they continued their push toward the capital Tripoli. Their advance came after regime positions in Sirte were targeted by coalition fighter jets Monday.
The rebels have already recaptured the strategic oil town of Ajdabiya as well as the town of Brega, 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the west.
On Sunday evening, wire services reported anti-aircraft fire and explosions had been heard in Tripoli after dark. Witnesses said the strikes targeted the road to the international airport.
Author: Rob Mudge, Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler