Gates Cites Efforts to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Libya

MOSCOW–(ENWESPF)–March 22, 2011 – Coalition forces enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya to halt the slaughter of citizens by Moammar Gadhafi “have gone to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates and Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov met to discuss a range of issues that also included the new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, missile defense, cooperation in Afghanistan, defense reform, and a new defense relations working group.

Amid praise for great strides made over the past year in military-to-military cooperation between the nations, Gates said, Serdyukov told him that Russia “supports the agreement of international powers that violence against Libyans should be stopped.” But he then called for “an immediate ceasefire” of hostilities he said were “destroying civilian facilities and killing civilians,” the secretary added.

“I assured him that the actions of the coalition are completely consistent with the U.N. Security Council Resolution calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone and protecting civilian lives,” Gates said.

The resolution of the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council that led to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 “were, in fact, a recognition that Colonel Gadhafi was killing large numbers of his own people,” the secretary said.

“Most of the targets are air defense targets isolated from populated areas,” he added.

“Significant military fighting that’s been going on should recede in the next few days,” the secretary said he told Serdyukov, “and I agree with him that the future of Libya should be decided by the Libyan people.”

As coalition members are successful in suppressing Gadhafi’s air defenses, the level of kinetic activity should decline, Gates added. “It’s perfectly evident that the vast majority, if not nearly all civilian casualties, have been inflicted by Gadhafi,” he said.

Leadership for coalition activities should transfer soon from U.S. Africa Command to an authority that is now being discussed, Gate said.

“This command and control business is complicated, and we haven’t done something like this kind ‘of on the fly’ before,” he said, “so it’s not surprising to me that it would take a few days to get it all sorted out.”

The U.S.-Russia relationship has seen remarkable progress in the past year, Gates added, evolving from one that focused nearly exclusively on arms control issues “to our present collaboration on a working level on a range of matters affecting our defense ministries.

The secretary said he looks forward to a continued dialogue and a stronger relationship in the future.