US to pull out warplanes, missiles from Libya mission

Associated Press
By Dan De Luce
April 2, 2011

The US military is poised to withdraw its combat jets and Tomahawk missiles from the air campaign against Libya’s regime, as NATO allies take the lead in bombing Moamer Kadhafi’s forces.

With NATO taking charge of the coalition effort on Thursday, US officials confirmed Friday that American fighters, ground-attack aircraft and cruise missiles would be pulled out of the operation starting this weekend.

The move follows pledges by President Barack Obama to quickly shift the lead to allies in the NATO-led coalition, with the US military playing a supporting role — providing planes for mid-air refueling, jamming and surveillance.

“As we transition to a support role, our focus will be on providing enabling capabilities and not on strike capabilities,” a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

Some lawmakers heavily criticized Obama over the decision at hearings on Thursday, saying NATO allies lacked ground-attack aircraft that were crucial against the Libyan regime’s tanks and artillery.

In keeping with the handover, US sorties aimed at striking targets in Libya had also been scaled back in recent days.

American pilots flew only 10 out of 74 strike sorties in the past 24 hours up to 0800GMT Friday, the US defense official said. …

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