Obama to address nation on Libya strategy

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama will address the nation about his Libya strategy Monday, the White House announced, as coalition forces launched fresh air strikes against the Libyan regime's forces.

The announcement came as allied warplanes carried out raids late Friday on the town of Zliten, 160 kilometres (100 miles) east of Tripoli, and in the western el Watiya region, Libyan state television reported.

A military site in Tripoli's eastern Tajura suburb was in flames after three major explosions rocked the district.

Obama will speak to the nation from the National Defense University in Washington at 7:30 pm (2320 GMT), said the White House.

He will update Americans on the campaign so far, on plans to turn over control to NATO, and "our policy going forward", the statement added.

On Friday, the president briefed key congressional leaders about the operation.

The announcement came amid growing complaints that Obama has failed to clearly explain US goals and strategy in the latest US military engagement in the Muslim world.

Top lawmakers attending Friday's -- session either in person or by telephone -- included Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner; Majority leader Eric Cantor; and Nancy Pelosi, the chamber's Democratic leader.

John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Republican Senate veterans Richard Lugar and John McCain also took part in the president's briefing from the secure White House Situation Room.

White House spokesman Jay Carney earlier said Obama wanted to hear the lawmakers' views on the combat mission.

Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker appreciated the update but "still believes much more needs to be done by the administration to provide clarity, particularly to the American people, on the military objective in Libya (and) America's role."

Earlier this week Boehner wrote asking Obama to explain in detail his Libya strategy, notably whether Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi could be allowed to stay in power.

Other members of Congress have warned about the cost of the operation at a time when the United States is still engaged in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is facing huge budget deficits.

The White House has rejected claims it has insufficiently consulted Congress on the Libyan operation. Under the US Constitution, Congress has the sole power to declare war.

Carney said that if Obama had waited for lawmakers to return from a recess next week, events could have overtaken plans for a no-fly zone and many civilians could have been killed in the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

"There was an urgency to act here," said Carney.

"Had (Obama) waited for Congress to come back, had he taken more time to debate and consult on this issue, I think there is very little doubt that Benghazi would have fallen and many people (would have) died."

Lawmakers are not due to return from a recess devoted to constituent work until next week.

The White House also insisted Friday that NATO had indeed reached a political agreement to assume full control over all military operations from the coalition attacking Kadhafi's forces.

While NATO sources had said earlier that the western alliance was still working on some aspects of the mission, Washington said late Thursday a deal had been done on the divisive diplomatic issue.

Final "military planning" was underway on the full transfer of authority and would be complete within days, said Carney.

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