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Obama says Libya mission saved "countless" lives

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President Barack Obama told Americans on Saturday that the military mission in Libya is clear, focused and limited, and that it has already saved "countless" civilian lives.


A U.S.-led coalition launched a bombing campaign last week with the aim of protecting civilians after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, whose forces were advancing against rebel strongholds and threatened violent retaliation against them.

U.S. and other international forces continue to strike Gaddafi's forces and armaments with missiles and precision bombs and are enforcing a no-fly zone over the country and an arms embargo at sea.

Obama said Libya's air defenses have been disabled, Gaddafi's forces are no longer advancing and in places like the city of Benghazi, a rebel stronghold where Gaddafi threatened to show "no mercy," his forces have been pushed back.

"So make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians --innocent men, women and children-have been saved," Obama said in his weekly radio address.

Members of Congress -- from both the left and right -- have criticized Obama for failing to communicate thoroughly the goals of the military operation. Some have assailed him for failing to seek Congressional approval for the action, others for embarking on another military mission in a Muslim country when the United States is already embroiled in the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Obama said the role of U.S. forces has been limited in what he described as a "broad, international effort." He stressed again that no U.S. ground forces would go into Libya.

Obama will also address Americans in a speech on Monday evening to further discuss the Libya mission.

'CLEAR AND FOCUSED'

NATO has already agreed to take over the lead role in enforcing the no-fly zone and arms embargo against Libya. Final details have not yet been worked out for NATO to take over air strikes against Gaddafi's equipment and military to prevent attacks on civilians.

"Our military mission in Libya is clear and focused," Obama said. He noted that Arab countries, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have agreed to send aircraft.

Obama stressed that the United States "should not -- and cannot" intervene in every crisis. But he said when a situation like Libya arises and the international community supports action, the United States has a responsibility to intervene.

"I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Gaddafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives, then it's in our national interest to act," he said.

Obama reiterated that Gaddafi must stop attacking civilians, pull back his forces and allow humanitarian assistance to reach those who need it. He said Gaddafi has lost the confidence of the Libyan people and the legitimacy to rule, but did not call directly for Gaddafi's removal, which Washington has said repeatedly is not the purpose of the military mission.

"This military effort is part of our larger strategy to support the Libyan people and hold the Gaddafi regime accountable," Obama said. "... And every day, the pressure on Gaddafi and his regime is increasing."

(Reuters)