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Obama Reaches Out to Nation, Lawmakers on Libya

Pete Souza/The White House/Getty Images
President Barack Obama leads a briefing March 21 on the current situation in Libya during a secure conference call aboard Air Force One. Obama plans to address the nation on Monday night about Libya.

President Barack Obama updated the nation Saturday on the U.S. military mission in Libya, and while he refrained from discussing regime change, he said the effort is part of a larger strategy of holding Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and his government accountable for a violent crackdown on political opponents.

The president used his weekly address to report "important progress" by an international coalition in enforcing a no-fly zone over the North African country, and the White House announced Friday night that Obama would provide further updates in a speech at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

Obama also organized a last-minute Congressional briefing about the situation. A bipartisan, bicameral group of Members gathered in the White House Situation Room for the briefing or participated by phone. Because secure phone lines could not be arranged, some classified information was not shared, Politico reported.

A classified Congressional briefing is scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol Visitor Center auditorium.

In response to the crackdown, the United Nations Security Council voted March 17 to approve a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians. An international coalition led by the United States began enforcing the zone last Saturday, but U.S. officials were quick to say that the U.S. military would hand off primary responsibility within days. They announced Friday that a deal had been reached for NATO to take over all aspects of the mission.

Lawmakers from both parties have made their discomfort with the mission clear in the past week and criticized the administration for not seeking Congressional approval.

Obama defended his military decision Saturday.

"Make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians innocent men, women and children have been saved," he said.

He also emphasized the transition to NATO control of the mission.

"As I pledged at the outset, the role of American forces has been limited," he said. "We are not putting any ground forces into Libya. Our military has provided unique capabilities at the beginning, but this is now a broad, international effort."

Critics have contended that the mission lacks clarity, particularly because Obama has called for an end to Gaddafi's power, while the U.N. Security Council resolution did not mention regime change.

Obama scaled back Saturday.

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