WASHINGTON -- Even as President Obama assured a war-weary public that American forces would play only a supporting role in a no-fly zone over Libya, there was no avoiding a prominent opening assignment: Only the United States had the resources to degrade Moammar Kadafi's air defenses, a key to seizing control of Libyan airspace.
Fighter jets from France, the United Kingdom and Arab allies may ultimately assume the daily job of patrolling Libya's skies, but it was largely a U.S. operation in Saturday's opening volley that launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles at Kadafi's surface-to-air missile sites and radar detectors.
With Kadafi's forces on a brutal march toward crushing the rebels' stronghold in Benghazi, the U.S. and its allies knew that a failure to intervene could mean a slaughter of civilians in Benghazi, home to 700,000 and Libya's second-largest city.
It was only last summer that the U.S. declared an end to combat operations in Iraq. In Afghanistan, a 10-year war that recent polls show most Americans feel is no longer worth fighting, Obama has approved a plan to keep fighting until at least 2014, with no guarantee that by then the government in Kabul can handle security in the country.
But faced with the prospect of a massive humanitarian disaster at Kadafi's hands, Obama found himself in the uncomfortable position he has spent weeks trying to avoid: that of world policeman.>>>
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