The head of the U.K.’s armed forces said Muammar Qaddafi can’t be directly targeted under the United Nations resolution enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya after senior ministers raised the possibility that he could be.
“It’s not allowed under the UN resolution and it’s not something I want to discuss further,” General David Richards told BBC television today. “We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re on track to achieve the goals that have been set us.”
Under the United Nations Security Council resolution passed March 17, forces led by Britain, France and the U.S. are permitted to enforce a no-fly zone to prevent Qaddafi attacking his own civilian population. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said this morning that it “all depends on how people behave,” when asked if Qaddafi could be a target. Defense Secretary Liam Fox also left open the possibility yesterday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday the campaign should be limited to the terms of the resolution rather than being broadened to target Qaddafi directly. Allied officials said two days of missile and aircraft strikes have effectively grounded Qaddafi’s air force, halting his advance into the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. The Libyan leader denounced the coalition against him as “the party of Satan.”
“I’m not going to get drawn into the detail of who might be targeted because I don’t think it is right,” Hague told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program when asked if the resolution barred attacks on Qaddafi. “I don’t think in a conflict and the enforcement of the UN resolution, to give people all the details of what might or might not be targeted is wise.”
Gates told reporters traveling with him to Russia last night that expanding the goal of protecting civilians could divide what he said is as a “very diverse coalition.”
“The one thing that there is common agreement on are the terms set forth in the Security Council resolution,” Gates said. “If we start adding additional objectives then I think we create a problem in that respect. I also think it is unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve.”
The main U.K. spokesman on the Libya operation, John Lorimer, said today there is no evidence of an observation of a cease-fire by Qaddafi.
“Although they claimed a cease-fire yesterday, there is no evidence” of a change of policy from Qaddafi, Lorimer told reporters in London. “Opposition sources are saying that Qaddafi is removing forces from Benghazi and targeting elsewhere.”
There had been “numerous casualties, including women, children and the elderly” killed in Benghazi, Lorimer said.
Hague refused to rule out the possibility of deploying British special forces on the ground in Libya, though he said there would be no occupation of the country.
“Circumstances can arise when these sorts of things happen. It would be foolish to exclude it,” Hague said. “We’re not going to invade Libya, let everyone be clear about that.”
Gates added that he would like the British, French or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to take command of operations from the U.S. “within days.” Fox said yesterday that he hopes Arab nations may join the coalition within the next day or two.
“The U.K. Sees NATO as the main means of coordinating military action,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters today when asked whether military command would pass to the U.K. A defense ministry spokesman said a decision on who takes command had not yet been made.
British forces launched new attacks on Libyan targets overnight, which were “highly effective,” Lorimer said.
A planned attack using Royal Air Force GR4 Tornado jets was abandoned after civilians were identified within the target area. Richards said he was “delighted” that the planes had turned back.
“We don’t want to fall into the propaganda trap Mr. Qaddafi is trying to set us,” he told the BBC.