CBSN

Obama: "We have already saved lives"

Appearing in El Salvador Tuesday, President Obama said the military action in Libya has "already saved lives" by slowing down Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's attacks on his own people.

Mr. Obama said the coalition offensive averted a possible "catastrophe" because it forced Qaddafi's forces to pull back, saying "the American people and military should be proud" that lives were saved.

"In Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people, you had the prospect of Qaddafi's forces carrying out his orders to show no mercy," he said. "That could've resulted in catastrophe in that town. Qaddafi's forces have pulled back because of this timely intervention."

Speaking at a brief news conference with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes Cartagena, Mr. Obama  said he is "extraordinarily relieved" that the two young men whose plane crashed in Libya after a malfunction are safe, adding that it's a "testament to our military that we have fully prepared for any contingency, including something like this. And they were able to recover these individuals rapidly."

The president also said that he has "absolutely no doubt" that the United States will be able to transfer control of the operation to the international coalition. America has taken the lead in the early stages of the offensive, particularly when it comes to missile strikes, something Mr. Obama attributes to America's "unique capabilities."

"It is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no fly zone," he said. "It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily involved in enforcing the arms embargo."

"We're already seeing a significant reduction in the number of U.S. planes that are involved in operations over Libya," he added.

The president maintained that the transfer would come within days.

"I said at the outset this was going to be a matter of days and not weeks and there's nothing based on how we've been able to execute over the last several days that changes that assessment," he said.

Mr. Obama was asked exactly how the attacks fit into the U.S. national interest. He responded that when "a brutal dictator is threatening his people and saying he will show no mercy and hunt people down...I think it's in America's national interest to do something about it."

He added that while American can't "solve every problem" no country has a biggest stake in maintaining "some semblance of order and justice" in the world.

The president planned to travel back to Washington ahead of schedule Wednesday, cutting his five-day tour of Latin America a few hours short in order to return home to deal with the situation in Libya and other issues.

Libyan city terrorized by shells, snipers

U.S. F-15 fighter jet down in Libya, crew "safe"

Times journalists abused, threatened in Libya

Complete coverage: Anger in the Arab World