US Ending Libya Air Combat Role
Gates, Mullen: Attack planes to be pulled out Saturday
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 1, 2011 3:59 AM CDT
Updated Apr 1, 2011 7:56 AM CDT
Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, right, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, testify before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on military operations in Libya yesterday.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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(Newser) – The Pentagon is about to pull its attack planes out of the international air campaign in Libya, hoping NATO partners can pick up the slack. The announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that American combat missions will end Saturday drew incredulous reactions from some in Congress who wondered aloud why the Obama administration would bow out of a key element of the strategy for protecting Libyan civilians and crippling Moammar Gadhafi's army.

Gates and Mullen also forcefully argued against putting the US in the role of arming or training Libyan rebel forces, while suggesting it might be a job for Arab or other countries. "My view would be, if there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States," Gates said. America's role will now be support missions such as aerial refueling, search and rescue, and aerial reconnaissance, Mullen said, stressing that combat aircraft will remain on standby for use if the rebels' situation becomes "dire enough."