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Monday, April 4, 2011

Operation Odyssey Dawn (Libya): Background and Issues for Congress

Jeremiah Gertler, Coordinator
Specialist in Military Aviation

This report provides an overview of military operations in Libya under U.S. command from March 19 to March 29, 2011, and the most recent developments with respect to the transfer of command of military operations from the United States to NATO on March 30.

The ongoing uprising in Libya against the government of Muammar al Qadhafi has been the subject of evolving domestic and international debate about potential international military intervention, including the proposed establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya. On March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, establishing a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace, authorizing robust enforcement measures for the arms embargo established by Resolution 1970, and authorizing member states “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

In response, the United States established Operation Odyssey Dawn, the U.S. contribution to a multilateral military effort to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians in Libya. Military operations under Odyssey Dawn commenced on March 19, 2011. U.S. and coalition forces quickly established command of the air over Libya’s major cities, destroying portions of the Libyan air defense network and attacking pro-Qadhafi forces deemed to pose a threat to civilian populations.

From the outset of operations, the Obama administration declared its intent to transfer command of operations over Libya to a coalition entity. On March 30, 2011, NATO assumed command of all aspects of coalition military operations.

Establishment of the initial no-fly zone over Libya went smoothly. One U.S. aircraft was lost due to mechanical malfunction, but the crew were rescued. Estimates of the cost of the initial operation range between $400 million and $1 billion.

U.S. participation in Operation Odyssey Dawn and NATO operations around Libya raises a number of questions for Congress, including the role of Congress in authorizing the use of force, the costs of the operation, the desired politico-strategic end state, the role of U.S. military forces in an operation under international command, and many others.

(A note on transliteration: The name of Muammar al Qadhafi is transliterated in many ways by various sources. This paper refers to him as Qadhafi except when quoting other documents, wherein his name is represented as it appears in the source.)

Date of Report: March 30, 2011
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: R41725
Price: $29.95

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