LONDON — The United States, France and Britain told Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to withdraw his troops from formerly rebel-held areas and halt any attacks on civilians there, as warplanes that could strike this north African country moved into the Mediterranean region.
President Barack Obama went even further, saying that if Gadhafi did not stand down, the United States would join other nations in launching military action against him.
Libya, meanwhile, said it stopped its military advance on rebel forces and invited monitors to observe the cease fire.
The U.S., Britain and France — backed by unspecified Arab countries — told Gadhafi in a statement late Friday that a cease-fire must begin “immediately,” the French presidential palace said.
The statement called on Gadhafi to end his troops’ advance toward the eastern city of Benghazi and pull them out of Misrata, Adjadbiya and Zawiya. It also called for the restoration of water, electricity and gas services in all areas, saying Libya’s population must be able to receive humanitarian aid.
“This is not negotiable,” the statement said.
In Tripoli, Libya’s deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, invited Germany, China, Turkey and Malta to send observers to monitor the cease fire, which he said was holding. “The cease fire for us means no military operations whatsoever, big or small,” he told reporters.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, one of the most enthusiastic backers of a no-fly zone, said Britain would send Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets to air bases “in the coming hours” so they would be in position to stop Gadhafi’s forces mounting airstrikes against rebels based in Benghazi.
“The clock is ticking, and we must be ready to act quickly,” Cameron said, adding that Gadhafi must prove he was serious about a cease fire to avoid military strikes.
The United States has a host of forces and ships in the region, including submarines, destroyers, amphibious assault and landing ships with some 400 Marines, but U.S. officials have not said what role American participation will take. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States must see “action on the ground,” not just words, on a cease fire.
The White House and the Pentagon offered no other details on what the precise role of the U.S. military would be in any strikes against Gadhafi’s forces, but an administration official said late Friday that the United States might take the lead in an attempt to destroy Libya’s air defenses at the beginning of operations.
“We may do the shaping on the front end,” the administration official said.
The official was referring to the ability of U.S. forces, greater than that of the allies, to strike targets precisely from long distances, whether by missiles launched from submarines, surface warships or attack jets.
The official said that the goal was to limit U.S. military involvement to the initial stages of any action, and that it was the administration’s expectation that the allies could control the skies over Libya once Gadhafi’s air defenses are destroyed.
British defense analyst Charles Heyman said the Americans will have the bulk of the military responsibility. “It’s easy for the British and the French to talk a lot about it when they actually don’t have all the right equipment to maintain a no-fly zone on their own,” Heyman said. Britain, France and NATO held emergency meetings Friday on using military force to enforce the no-fly zone, which was approved by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said “everything is ready” for action, but added that “we have to analyze the conditions of the cease fire.” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO was “completing its planning to be ready to take appropriate action in support of the U.N. resolution as part of the broad international effort.”
French government spokesman Francois Baroin would not comment on “where, how, what target, or in what form” airstrikes against Libyan installations would come. Officials announced that the leaders of Britain, France and Germany and the chiefs of the United Nations and Arab League would join other world leaders for an emergency summit on Libya in Paris on Saturday.
U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said “it is imperative that the international community continues to speak with one voice” on Libya. As well as Britain and France, Denmark and Canada said they would supply fighter jets for the mission. Italy and Spain said they would make their air bases available. Diplomats have said Arab countries likely to participate in possible strikes include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
NATO surveillance AWACS planes flying off the Libyan coast are already providing 24-hour coverage of the situation in the air and on the battlefields. Analysts said no-fly zone aircraft would be flying from NATO bases such as in Sigonella, Sicily, Aviano in northern Italy, Istres in southern France and Ventiseri-Solenzara in Corsica.