Washington — The US prepared to launch a missile attack on Libyan air defenses, but American ships and aircraft stationed in and around the Mediterranean Sea did not participate in initial French air missions Saturday, according to two US officials familiar with the unfolding intervention.
One official said the US intends to limit its involvement — at least in the initial stages — to helping protect French and other air missions by taking out Libyan air defenses.
An attack against those defenses with Navy sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles was planned for later Saturday, one official said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of military operations.
The official said that depending on how Libyan forces responded to initial intervention by the French and others, the US could launch additional attacks in support of allied forces. The intention was to leave it to other nations to patrol a no-fly zone over Libya once air defenses are silenced, the official said.
President Barack Obama, on an official visit to Brazil, mentioned the Libya operation only briefly. He noted that US, European and other government officials met in Paris Saturday to discuss the way ahead in Libya.
"Our consensus was strong and our resolve is clear," Obama said. "The people of Libya must be protected and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act and to act with urgency."
After the Paris meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi continued to defy the will of the international community that he halt attack against rebels. She said the US will support the international military coalition taking action to stop Qadhafi.
Clinton said "unique" American military capabilities will be brought to bear in support of the coalition, and she reiterated Obama's pledge on Friday that no US ground forces would get involved. She was not more specific about US involvement.
"We will support the enforcement" of the UN Security Council resolution that was passed earlier in the week, she said. That resolution authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone and use of "all necessary" military force.
Among the US Navy ships in the Mediterranean were two guided-missile destroyers, the USS Barry and USS Stout, as well as two amphibious warships, the USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce, and a command-and-control ship, the USS Mount Whitney. The submarine USS Providence was also in the Mediterranean.