Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would require armed conflict, according to a top American general, who testified today on Capitol Hill.
Marine Gen. James Mattis, who oversees U.S. Central Command, said that if there was a no-fly zone, anti-aircraft sites in Libya would have to be taken out first. Mattis is known as a straight talker and he was today.
"My military opinion is, sir, it would be challenging," Mattis told Sen. John McCain at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "You would have to remove the air defense capability in order to establish the no-fly zone so it -- no illusions here -- it would be a military operation. It wouldn't simply be telling people not to fly airplanes."
The need for a military operation to enforce a no-fly zone is a large reason why there is no unanimity in the international community, at NATO and the United Nations about enforcing one, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
"There is no unanimity within NATO for the use of armed force. And the kinds of options that have been talked about in the press and elsewhere also have their own consequences and second- and third-order effects, so they need to be considered very carefully," Gates said.
He also pointed out that any authorization for NATO to use force would have to come from the United Nations.
Gates would not say specifically what the military options for intervention are.
"Our job is to give the president the broadest possible decision space and the options," he said. "And to go into the things that we're thinking about, the options that we're providing, I think have the potential to narrow his decision space, and -- and I have no intention of doing that."
But the Pentagon is sending 400 Marines to the USS Kearsarge in the Mediterranean to help with any eventual humanitarian activities or evacuations from Libya.
Discussion of establishing a no-fly zone was sparked by news reports that Gadhafi regime is using its air force to strike at civilian targets, but Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said today there is no independent confirmation that heavy weapons have been used on demonstrators.
"We've seen the press reports, but we have no confirmation," Gates said.
"That's correct," Mullen said. "We've seen no confirmation whatsoever."