US Military Counter-Libya Preparation Update: USS Enterprise Now Back In Mediterranean

Earlier today, we reported that the US military is in the process of repositioning its forces in the area around Libya "to be able to provide flexibility and options." And while we have yet to get an updated US naval map for this week (the last one can be found here), it appears that the USS Enterprise which was previously on its way to the Straits of Hormuz has made a 180 and has now backtracked completely through the Red Sea and is now once again north of the Suez, where it has joined the big deck amphibious warfare ship Kearsarge. This means that the USS Vinson is again left alone to protect the highly combustible gulf region, which now includes both Bahrain and Oman, in addition to Yemen and of course Iran and Saudi, on revolutionary watch. It may be time to send Abraham Lincoln, which in turn is patrolling the South China Sea, back to the Persian Gulf as the possibility of a flashpoint escalation there is far greater than around Indonesia (which however would leave all of Korea and China unguarded). Keep an eye out on CVN 74 and 76 - Stennis and Reagan. If those two start making a move west, then next steps can be extrapolated quite easily.

Most recent map - note Jean-Luc Piccard's ship is now back north of the Suez:

AFP has more:

"We're studying all options to ensure that Colonel Gaddafi understands that he has to go. I know that people have mentioned military solutions, and these solutions are being examined by the French government," Fillon said in an interview with RTL radio.

One option on the table was using NATO air power to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to stop Gaddafi from using air strikes against his own people. However, such a step would require UN approval, experts said.

 For any military intervention featuring air power, US commanders could turn to the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier, which is currently in the Red Sea, as well as the amphibious ship the USS Kearsarge, which has a fleet of helicopters and about 2000 Marines on board.

As of Monday, the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise had moved to the north of the Red Sea, near the Suez Canal, according to the US Navy's website.

As recently as last week, the carrier was in the Gulf of Aden, when it was part of a naval force tracking a pirate attack on a US yacht. The ship had passed through the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean earlier this month on its way to the Arabian Sea.

Apart from a possible no-fly zone, Western nations were also looking at setting up a humanitarian “corridor” in neighbouring Tunisia or Egypt to help refugees, the New York Times has reported.

The Obama administration also was discussing whether the American military could disrupt communications to prevent Gaddafi from broadcasting in Libya, the Times wrote.

In the meantime, Gaddafi's increasingly more erratic behavior means that a definitive resolution will almost certainly require the use of lethal external force:

As Gaddafi's troops assaulted opposition forces, US and European leaders were weighing the use of NATO air power to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to stop Gaddafi from using air strikes against his own people.

British prime Minister David Cameron insisted further violence would not be tolerated and did not rule out the possibility of NATO sending ground troops.

And the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said Gaddafi was “delusional” and “unfit” to lead, after the Libyan leader claimed his people loved him, in an interview with foreign reporters.

“It sounds just frankly delusional, when he can talk and laugh to an American and (an) international journalist while he is slaughtering his own people,” Rice said at the White House.

“It only underscores how unfit he is to lead and how disconnected he is from reality.”

In the interview, the Libyan strongman ignored mounting global pressure to step down and perhaps head into exile after four decades in power.

"They love me. All my people with me. They love me all. They would die to protect me," the veteran Libyan leader said speaking in halting English in an interview with Western media shown on the BBC's world news website.

"No demonstrations at all in the streets," claimed Gaddafi, who has ruled his north African country for more than 41 years. "No one is against us, against me for what?"

He sat down for the interview with ABC television channel as well as the BBC and The Times of London as world powers ramped up pressure on his regime.

There has been global outrage at a brutal crackdown on opposition demonstrations against Kadhafi's regime which erupted nearly two weeks ago in the wake of the upheavals in its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia.

Pro-democracy forces now control vast swaths of the east of the north African country, but rights groups say at least 1000 people have been killed in the crackdown.

After initially groping for a response, the United States has now openly called for Gaddafi to step down, suggesting he should go into exile.

"The people of Libya have made themselves clear: it is time for Gaddafi to go - now, without further violence or delay," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a UN Human Rights Council meeting on Libya in Geneva.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said "exile" was "one option" that would satisfy US demands for Gaddafi to go, amid the uprising.

But Gaddafi hit back, saying he had been betrayed by the United States.

"I'm surprised that we have an alliance with the West to fight al-Qa'ida, and now that we are fighting terrorists they have abandoned us," he said, according to ABC television.

"Perhaps they want to occupy Libya," ABC quoted him as saying, adding Gaddafi had insisted he could not step down because he is neither a president nor a king.

He also challenged those who have suggested he has stashed money abroad to produce evidence of such funds and said he would "put two fingers in their eye," the BBC reported.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen said the interview had taken place in a restaurant in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and Gaddafi had seemed relaxed throughout.

"He laughed quite a bit when asked various questions. He seemed very unconcerned about foreign pressure, saying the Libyan people were behind him, the Libyan people loved him," Bowen wrote on the BBC website. Gaddafi also repeated his allegations that the people who had come onto the streets were under the influence of drugs supplied by al-Qa'ida. He added people had seized weapons and that his supporters were under orders not to shoot back.

But witnesses said Gaddafi's forces had hit back yesterday, with fighter jets bombing ammunition stores in the eastern town of Adjabiya, around 100 km south of the capital Tripoli.

Two planes also attacked a munitions dump at Rajma, just south of the city, a military reservist told AFP.

The brutal crackdown on opposition protests has killed at least 1000 people and set off a "humanitarian emergency," the UN refugee agency UNHCR has said, warning of a mass exodus from Libya.

Faced with the threat of massacres or a wave of refugees on their Mediterranean flank, senior Western officials, including France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon, were weighing military options.

The biggest and only wildcard remains the Libyan army: unlike in Egypt, where it promptly sided with the counter-government protesters, in Libya it has still to definitvely pick any side. Worse yet, it seems as if splinter groups are forming. Should ambitious generals and/or dictators in waiting emerge on either side of the armed conflict, it would most likely tip the country into an all out civil war, especially since Gaddafi said he "could not step down because he is neither a president nor a king."