WASHINGTON - The United States and its NATO allies edged closer yesterday to formulating a military response to the escalating violence in Libya as the alliance boosted surveillance flights over the country and the Obama administration signaled it might be willing to help arm Moammar Gadhafi's opponents. Europe, meanwhile, kick-started international efforts to impose a no-fly zone.
It still appeared unlikely that U.S. warplanes or missiles would soon deploy in Libya, which may be sliding toward civil war, but the ongoing violence increased pressure on Washington to do something or spell out its plan.
The violence "perpetrated by the government in Libya is unacceptable," President Barack Obama said as he authorized $15 million in new humanitarian aid to assist and evacuate people fleeing the fighting. And he warned those still loyal to Gadhafi that they will be held to account for a violent crackdown that continued yesterday with warplanes launching multiple airstrikes on opposition fighters seeking to advance on Tripoli.
"I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Col. Gadhafi," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. "It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward. And they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place."
The president spoke as U.S. military planes shuttled between Europe and Tunisia, ferrying in supplies and taking out some of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled across the Libyan border.
As international humanitarian efforts stepped up, Obama said NATO was consulting about "a wide range of potential options, including potential military options, in response to the violence that continues to take place inside of Libya."
As a first step, NATO agreed yesterday to increase airborne warning and control surveillance flights over Libya from 10 to 24 hours a day to give the alliance a better picture of the humanitarian and military situations on the ground, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters.
NATO's governing body is meeting during the next two days to come up with contingency plans for military operations to be considered at a Thursday meeting of the alliance's defense ministers in Brussels, he said.