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NATO assumes responsibility for no-fly zone over Libya

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced today the alliance will assume command and control of coalition operations enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

“We are taking action as part of the broad international effort to protect civilians against the attacks by the [Moammar] Gadhafi regime,” Rasmussen said in a statement released today. “We will cooperate with our partners in the region and welcome their contributions.”

All NATO allies are committed to fulfill their obligations under the U.N. resolution, Rasmussen said. “That is why we have decided to assume responsibility for the no-fly zone,” He added.

Speaking in Washington this evening after meetings at the White House, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said a wide range of nations has responded to the Libyan people’s needs.

“When the Libyan people sought to realize their democratic aspirations, they were met by extreme violence from their own government,” Clinton said. “The Libyan people appealed to the world to help stop the brutal attacks on them, and the world listened.”

Hundreds of thousands of civilians were in danger, the secretary said, and an international coalition responded.

“After only five days, we have made significant progress,” she said. “A massacre in Benghazi was prevented. Gadhafi's air force and air defenses have been rendered largely ineffective. And the coalition is in control of the skies above Libya.”

Humanitarian relief is beginning to reach the people who need it, she said, noting, “At least 18 doctors and nurses from an organization funded by the United States Agency for International Development [are] in Benghazi … beginning to provide support to the city's main hospital.”

President Barack Obama stressed that the U.S. military’s actions “would be limited in time and scope,” Clinton said. “Our mission has been to use America's unique capabilities to create the conditions for the no-fly zone, and to assist in meeting urgent humanitarian needs.”

Today the United States and its NATO allies agreed to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO, Clinton said.

“This coalition includes countries beyond NATO, including Arab partners, and we expect all of them to [provide] important political guidance going forward,” she said.

Arab leadership and participation is the coalition is crucial, she said.

“The Arab League showed that leadership with its pivotal statement on Libya,” Clinton said. “We are deeply appreciative of their continuing contributions, including aircrafts and pilots from Qatar.”

This evening the United Arab Emirates announced it will join the coalition and send planes to help protect Libyan civilians and enforce the no-fly zone, the secretary said.

“We welcome this important step,” she added. “It underscores both the breadth of this international coalition and the depth of concern in the region for the plight of the Libyan people.”

As NATO assumes command-and-control responsibilities, the welfare of Libyan civilians will be of paramount concern, she said.

“Our military will continue to provide support to our efforts to make sure that Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 will be enforced,” Clinton said. “It is an effort that we believe is very important, and we'll look forward to coordinating closely with all those nations that are participating.”

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