President Obama on Monday will offer his most expansive explanation of the U.S. role in the Libyan war, delivering a speech that is expected to cover the path ahead and his rationale about the appropriate use of force.
Obama's 7:30 p.m. EDT speech, to be given from the National Defense University in Washington, comes as leading Republican lawmakers and some from his own party have pressed him for clarity about the goals and exit strategy of the United States. Obama and top U.S. security officials spent about an hour talking to lawmakers on Friday, with the president answering questions from critics.
For a president who was on a Latin American outreach trip when the U.N.-sanctioned military assault on the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi began last Saturday to establish a no-fly zone and prevent Gadhafi from attacking his own people, the speech offers Obama his best chance to explain the purpose and scope of the mission to a nation already weary of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama is expected to explain how the U.S.-led campaign is shifting to NATO control, and how the multinational approach with Arab support puts the United States in the strongest position to achieve the goals of protecting Libyan civilians, a White House official said.
The president will also put the Libyan campaign into a broader context of his decisions about the use of force, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
With the Obama administration eager to take a back seat, it remained unclear when NATO would assume command of the no-fly patrols. Also unclear was when -- and even if -- the U.S. military's Africa Command would hand off to NATO the lead role in attacking Libyan ground targets.
The White House announcement of Monday's speech came after Obama's teleconference Friday with a bipartisan group of key members of Congress. The call came amid complaints on Capitol Hill that Obama was not adequately consulting about the intervention in Libya with Capitol Hill.
During the call, Obama and other U.S. officials emphasized to lawmakers that the United States' military role would be decreasing, according to an official who listened to the conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Obama reiterated the U.S. position that Gadhafi should leave power. But he said the United States planned to follow the mission of the U.N. Security Council resolution, which centers on the protection of Libyan civilians. The campaign is not aimed at killing Gadhafi, the official said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, asked a series of questions and got answers from both the president and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, the official said. The president also took questions from the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and from other lawmakers.
After the call, a spokesman for Boehner said the speaker wants the Obama administration to do more to explain how the mission in Libya "is consistent with U.S. policy goals."
Obama also faced political pressure from his own party, with one prominent Democrat expressing reservations about the wisdom of continuing the military mission.
"I know the president carefully weighed all the options before taking this emergency action but now that our military has prevented an immediate disaster, I have very serious concerns about what this intervention means for our country in the coming weeks," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon official said Friday that even as other nations begin taking a larger role in the international air assault mission in Libya, the Pentagon was considering adding Air Force gunships and other attack aircraft that are better suited for tangling with Libyan ground forces in contested urban areas like Misrata.
Navy Vice Adm. William Gortney told a Pentagon news conference that for the second consecutive day, all air missions to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya were flown by non-U.S. aircraft, and U.S. planes conducted about half the missions attacking Libyan air defenses, missile sites and ground forces. Qatar became the first Arab nation to join the effort, flying F-16s in support of the no-fly zone.