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NATO commander: It is 'premature' to talk of Libya exit strategy

On the eve of the transfer of Libya command from the US to NATO, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis faced tough questioning from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO's supreme allied commander, shown here in a 2009 file photo, testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. mission in Libya.

Miguel Angel Alvarez / Notimex / Newscom / File

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NATO's Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the military alliance will take over full operations of the current campaign there, including the protection of civilians, in the next 48 hours.

On Capitol Hill, Admiral Stavridis faced tough questions about whether NATO allies are sufficiently united in their interpretation of the goals of the mission upon which they have embarked – and whether the United States has an exit strategy in Libya.

"Events at this point are so fluid," said Stavridis, that any talk of exit strategy is "frankly premature."

Senators probed the NATO commander about the possible presence of Al Qaeda elements within Libyan rebel ranks.

Some “flickers” of intelligence indicate there may be Libyan opposition members with Al Qaeda or Hezbollah affiliations, Stavridis told senators, but he doesn’t have sufficient intelligence to say whether or not Al Qaeda has a "significant" presence. This lack of clear intelligence on the Libyan opposition has been a common theme throughout testimony and in briefings from senior US military commanders. Nonetheless, Stavridis said, he sees evidence that rebel leaders are “responsible men and women” struggling to oust the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

Because the United Nations Security Council mandate does not include the ouster of Qaddafi from power, the war is expected to remain largely an air- and submarine-launched missile campaign. No NATO allies have committed to ground troops in Libya, nor were they mentioned during NATO discussions surrounding the run-up to the implementation of the no-fly zone, Stavridis told the committee.


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