Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi have driven back rebels to the eastern city of Benghazi this week. And after weeks of ambiguity about an official position on Libya, the Obama administration yesterday said the U.S. would support military action beyond a no-fly zone to prevent a humanitarian disaster. “We need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include, but perhaps go beyond, a no-fly zone at this point, as the situation on the ground has evolved, and as a no-fly zone has inherent limitations in terms of protection of civilians at immediate risk,” U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said.
With a UN Security Council resolution authorizing military action in Libya looming, Qaddafi today warned rebels in Benghazi, “We are coming tonight.” He promised amnesty for those who surrender, but added that his forces will show “no mercy or compassion” to those who resist.
But just minutes ago, the UN Security Council voted 10-0 to authorize the no-fly zone and any measures necessary to protect civilians from attacks by Qaddafi’s forces. Five countries abstained from the vote, including Russia and China. A UN source tells ThinkProgress that the resolution also demands an immediate cease fire and rules out any foreign occupation of any part of Libyan territory.
A French official said before the vote that the French and British, along with cooperation from some other Arab allies, would be prepared to begin implementing the UN resolution within hours of its passage. The official added that Britain and France were prepared to act with limited assistance from the U.S., which currently has five warships off the Libyan coast. However, “On the NATO side,” a senior NATO official said, “we’re not yet ready.”