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NATO sees momentum gain in protecting Libyans

NATO has gained momentum in the last few days in Libya, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said at the Pentagon today.

At a news conference, Fox thanked the United States for adding Predator drones to the skies over Libya.

“We’ve seen some progress on the ground in Misrata, and it seems clear that the regime is on the back foot,” he said. “The sooner Col. [Moammar] Gadhafi recognizes the game is up, either today or shortly, the better.”

Fox spoke after he and Gen. Sir David Jackson of the British army met with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for more than three hours.

“Our talks included military operations over Libya, where the U.S. continues to be in a supporting role in the NATO-led campaign, along with our Arab allies,” Gates said. “We talked about the way ahead in Afghanistan, where more than 9,000 British troops are in the thick of the fight.”

They also discussed the historic changes under way across the Middle East, with both Gates and Fox making it a point to condemn the use of violent tactics against peaceful protests.

The defense leaders also shared thoughts on the challenges facing the U.S. and British militaries in the face of fiscal constraints.

“For seven decades, the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom and the special bond forged in blood between our militaries has been a force for good in this world,” Gates said. “I’m pleased that our dialogue today sustained and advanced that relationship at such a challenging time.”

Afghanistan is the main theater of operations for U.S. and British efforts, Fox said. About 100,000 American servicemembers and 9,000 British troops are in Afghanistan. “We discussed how the process of transition was moving forward, and increasingly, while we have control of the military space in Afghanistan, the situation in the political space becomes of ever greater importance,” Fox said.

U.S. and British forces also confront piracy in the Persian Gulf and off the coast of Somalia.

Values and principles apply to all countries, Gates said, “in terms of peaceful protests, in terms of the need to address political and economic grievances of populations.”

“That said,” he added, “our response in each country will have to be tailored to that country and the circumstances peculiar to that country.”

In Libya, the Arab League actually started the diplomatic effort against Gadhafi. The Gulf Cooperation Council also weighed in, followed by the United Nations.

“There was a degree of international support for this humanitarian mission … that was unprecedented,” Gates said.

Gates defended bombing of Gadhafi’s compound, maintaining that as a command and control node to the Libyan military, which continues to attack its own people, the compound is a legitimate target.

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