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White House: U.S. no longer in lead on Libya

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb., 16, 2011. This is Carney's first daily press briefing at White House Press Secretary.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Jay Carney
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb., 16, 2011.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the United States is no longer "in the lead" on military efforts in Libya, and emphasized that President Obama had fulfilled his pledge to keep American leadership in the operation to "days" rather than "weeks."

At his White House press briefing, Carney said the U.S. had ceded its "substantial role" in Libyan operations to NATO, which at 6 a.m. GMT on Thursday "took sole command" of the mission.

"The president pledged to the American people at the start of our effort that it would be limited in duration and scope," Carney told reporters at the briefing.

"The substantial role that the U.S. played at the beginning because of its unique capacity has ended," he added, stating that the operations officially began twelve days ago and that, as promised, "the transition has taken place in days, not weeks."

Though a Canadian general has been put in charge of the Libya operations, it's worth noting that most of the key jobs at NATO are filled by Americans.

Carney said that because "we don't have crystal balls," he couldn't predict how long the rest of the mission would last. But he reiterated Mr. Obama's pledge not to commit ground troops to the mission. He said Mr. Obama was still considering whether or not to provide assistance such as arms to Libyan rebels, and that the president had not "ruled it in or out."

When asked about a statement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said "there are plenty of sources for [arming and training Libyan rebels] other than the United States," Carney responded that he did not think that contradicted the president's statement that such an option was under consideration.

"I think he made a statement of fact," Carney said of Gates.

"We believe that the pressure is obviously having an effect, and we will keep it up with our partners," Carney said.

"We are taking measures separate from the military mission -- together with our international partners... to put the kind of pressure on Qaddafi to isolate him to help bring him to the conclusion that he can no longer stay in power," he added.

Carney nonetheless insisted that it will be the Libyan people, not America or any other country, that decides their future.

He also expressed moderate optimism regarding the ongoing debate over a budget bill in Washington, saying that leading Democrats and Republicans in Congress appeared to be nearing a deal -- but that "there is no agreement until everything is agreed upon."

And he denied an Associated Press story from Wednesday saying the Obama administration could agree to GOP riders curbing the power of the EPA on key environmental initiatives.

"That story is false," he said.