Even though an assassination was not authorized in the United Nations’ sanctioning of a no-fly zone over Libya, the British defense minister said Monday that Col. Muammar Gaddafi may end up the victim of a coalition missile anyway.
“Mission accomplished would mean the Libyan people free to control their own destiny,” British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said during a recent television appearance. “This is very clear – the international community wants his regime to end and wants the Libyan people to control for themselves their own country.”
“Regime change is not an objective, but it may come about as a result of what is happening amongst the people of Libya,” he added, according to The Guardian.
Word of the British minister’s statement comes as U.S. officials were trying to play down the human toll of air strikes on the embattled nation, where a long-ruling dictator has sent mercenary forces after pro-democracy protesters who attempted to topple his regime. Russian officials, who’d abstained from voting on the resolution approving strikes, suggested that 48 civilians had already died in the attacks.
Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, was also quoted by The Guardian saying that he was concerned about a mission-creep in Libya, warning that what’s happened since the U.N. resolution “differs from the goal of imposing a no-fly zone.”
A senior administration official also told CNN this weekend that Gaddafi’s compound was targeted by coalition forces in a Sunday night air strike due to its command center capabilities. There was no indication that Gaddafi was in the compound when it was hit, and no evidence of other casualties.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged coalition forces Sunday to stick to enforcing the U.N.’s no-fly zone resolution, and not target Gaddafi himself.
In a Pentagon press conference Sunday evening, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney added that “we are not going after Gaddafi,” but also noted that if the Libyan leader was “somewhere he shouldn’t be,” he could be wounded.
For dedicating U.S. forces to the attack on Libya’s air defenses, President Barack Obama faced criticism from his own party, with Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio even suggesting the president could even be impeached for his order.
Another leading Democrat, Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA), charged that Libya’s vast oil reserves, not human rights concerns, motivated the strikes. Like others, he too sharply criticized the president for skirting formal congressional approval.
“With regard to Libya, we say what’s the goal? What is our role?” Republican Senator John Barrasso asked during a Sunday appearance on MSNBC, cautioning that “mission creep” could see US forces involved for “weeks and months.”
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez noted on the same network that Republicans had assailed Obama for moving too slowly against Kadhafi, stressing: “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
“I’m sure that if we had allowed the continuous slaughter of innocents, we’d have many of our Republican colleagues saying the president should have acted,” said Menendez, who refused to call the conflict a war.
President Obama has vowed that no U.S. forces will be deployed on the ground in Libya.
Libya holds the world’s 7th largest crude oil reserves.
With prior reporting by Kase Wickman and AFP.