WASHINGTON — The US military is not opposed to imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, the Pentagon said on Thursday, despite a stream of skeptical comments by defense leaders.
The caution expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and senior officers over a potential no-fly zone or other military action "should not be interpreted as somehow an opposition to doing this," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told MSNBC television.
Instead, they were pointing that "we need to think through all the ramifications of each of these options, as the president's considering them," Morrell said.
Gates and top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen showed little enthusiasm for a possible no-fly zone in Libya or other armed intervention in public remarks over the past two days, saying it would be dangerous, complex and politically risky.
"Let's just call a spade a spade," Gates told a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
"A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that's the way it starts," Gates said.
The defense chief added that "there's a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options."
He said such an operation would take large numbers of aircraft and could not be carried out using one lone aircraft carrier, adding that it would be "a big operation in a big country."
On Tuesday, Mullen said shutting down Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's air force would be "extraordinarily complex" while Gates asked whether it made sense for the United States to launch military action "in another country in the Middle East."
The Pentagon on Thursday also denied any rift inside President Barack Obama's administration over a no-fly zone, saying the military wanted to present the commander-in-chief with a full range of options.
Morrell said "they are out to preserve as much decision-making space as the president needs to figure out how to proceed here."
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