US still eyeing 'range of options' on Libya ahead of NATO meet
ON BOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 9 (Reuters) - The United States is still looking at a full range of military options on Libya, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, a day before NATO defense ministers gather for a meeting likely to expand on Western nations' deliberations about a no-fly zone.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters that U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who concluded a visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday, was expected to discuss Libya with counterparts from other NATO nations during the regular ministerial meeting beginning on Thursday.
"We are preparing, as we've made clear for days and days now, a range of military options for the president, including a no-fly zone and each of those options will also spell out the potential consequences of each course of action," Morrell said.
As fighting rages in Libya, consensus is still lacking among Western nations about the right way to induce Gaddafi to end his decades-long rule.
President Barack Obama has called on Gaddafi to step down, but Washington has not yet announced whether it would back a no-fly zone that would seek to prevent Libyan forces from conducting air strikes on their own people.
Gates has appeared cautious toward mounting calls for the United States to set up a no-fly zone over Libya.
Even in an international collaboration, the U.S. military would likely do the heavy lifting and Gates has warned such a move would require air strikes to cripple Libyan air defenses and voiced concern about more U.S. military intervention in another Middle Eastern country.
The United States has already moved several ships into the Mediterranean and airlifted Egyptians stranded by the turmoil in Libya.
But Morrell downplayed some reports that the Pentagon's position had diverged from others in the U.S. administration.
"(Gates) believes it is his duty to also present what the possible ramifications are of each option that is being considered," Morrell said.
The U.S. military has been strained by the war in Afghanistan, now in its tenth year, and the war in Iraq, where commanders are preparing to pull out U.S. troops fully this year.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by Miral Fahmy)
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