US President Barack Obama today ordered military airlifts to transport refugees, mostly from Egypt, who have massed across the Libyan border in Tunisia. The president also ordered the US Agency for International Development to charter civilian planes to transport refugees from several countries.
“There is a danger of a stalemate that over time could be bloody,” Obama said today. “And that is something that we’re obviously considering. So what I want to make sure of is, is that the United States has full capacity to act – potentially rapidly – if the situation deteriorates in such a way that you had a humanitarian crisis.”
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US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates played down the possibility of American military intervention in Libya yesterday, saying now was not the time for the United States to be entering into another war in the Middle East and that there was no agreement within NATO about the use of force in the north African country.
Both Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen distanced themselves from comments made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday and Tuesday that imposing a no-fly zone over Libya was under “active consideration.”
Gates told reporters that the United States needs to think “frankly” about “the use of the US military in another country in the Middle East.”
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by Steve Coll
On August 22, 1998, Mullah Omar, the emir of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, made a cold call to the State Department. The United States had just lobbed cruise missiles at Al Qaeda camps in his nation. Omar got a mid-level diplomat on the line and spoke calmly. He suggested that Congress force President Bill Clinton to resign. He said that American military strikes “would be counter-productive,” and would “spark more, not less, terrorist attacks,” according to a declassified record of the call. “Omar emphasized that this was his best advice,” the record adds.
That was the first and last time that Omar spoke to an American government official, as far as is known. Before September 11th, some of his deputies had occasionally spoken with U.S. diplomats, but afterward the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the ground that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda was. Last year, however, as the U.S.-led Afghan ground war passed its ninth anniversary, and Mullah Omar remained in hiding, presumably in Pakistan, a small number of officials in the Obama Administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.
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