Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs By Karen Parrish
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama announced March 3 he has approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help Egyptians who have fled to the Tunisian border get back home to Egypt.
Speaking from the White House, Obama said the United States and the world continue "to be outraged by the appalling violence against the Libyan people."
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered U.S. Africa Command to take the lead for defense planning regarding the situation in Libya, according to a Pentagon statement. The DOD will continue to work in close coordination with the State Department and other agencies as needed.
Since Feb. 17, Libyan citizens have protested against Col. Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya since 1969. Gadhafi's forces have since engaged in increasingly violent clashes with protesters throughout the country, while Libya's military forces are divided between the two sides. An estimated 180,000 people have fled Libya, many gathering along the border with Tunisia.
"The United States is helping to lead an international effort to deter further violence, put in place unprecedented sanctions to hold the Gadhafi government accountable, and support the aspirations of the Libyan people," Obama said.
The United States also is responding to the urgent humanitarian needs that are developing, he said.
"Tens of thousands of people, from many different countries, are fleeing Libya," the president said. "We commend the governments of Tunisia and Egypt for their response, even as they go through their own political transitions."
The president also has authorized the U.S. Agency for International Development to charter additional civilian aircraft to help people fleeing Libya return to their homes.
"We're supporting the efforts of international organizations to evacuate people as well," the president said. "I've also directed USAID to send humanitarian assistance teams to the Libyan border, so that they can work with the United Nations, [non-governmental organizations] and other international partners inside Libya to address the urgent needs of the Libyan people."
The United States will continue to send a clear message that the violence in Libya must stop, and Gadhafi must go, the president said.
Libya's ruler "has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave," Obama said. "Those who perpetrate violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable. And the aspirations of the Libyan people for freedom, democracy and dignity must be met."