Pentagon officials began hammering out roles Friday that Southern Nevada's two Air Force bases would play in policing a no-fly zone over Libya should Moammar Gadhafi fail to follow President Barack Obama's ultimatum that the Libyan leader abide to a cease-fire on civilians and rebels trying to overthrow his regime.
"We clearly are preparing. We're in the planning stage now," Secretary of the Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Vician said when asked if remotely piloted Predator and Reaper armed spy planes from Creech Air Force Base would be brought into play for allied enforcement of a no-fly zone.
Creech, a hub for unmanned aerial systems operations 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is a sister base to Nellis Air Force Base on the city's north side. Pilots and sensor operators at Creech can, by remote control, conduct combat and surveillance operations on the other side of the globe.
Nellis, which operates a suite of warplanes from F-22 Raptors to F-15 Eagles and F-16 Falcons, is where fighter pilots train in air combat exercises including many who participated in Operation Southern Watch by policing the no-fly zone over Iraq in 1992. That operation extended until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and likewise began with a no-fly zone resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council in 1991.
A Nellis spokesman deferred comment to the Pentagon on what role Nellis would play in a no-fly zone or other U.S. military involvement in Libya.
Vician issued a response that says, "We always maintain a constant state of high readiness to ensure we are fully capable and ready to support any order which could come our way."
His statement added that, "As a matter of policy, we don't discuss specifics of future operational or operational training activities. ... We continue our primary mission of training and preparing to be able to respond to a tasking, if directed."
A spokesman at the Creech base, 1st Lt. Kevin Milgram, said earlier Friday, "As of right now we have not be tasked to participate."
However, The Associated Press reported Thursday that U.S. officials who spoke after a closed-door briefing in Congress, said they expected an attempt to ground Gadhafi's air force could start by Sunday or Monday and would probably involve jet fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft.
Western leaders plan to hold an emergency summit on Libya today in Paris. Meanwhile, the Navy began positioning warships including amphibious assault vessels in the Mediterranean Sea.
A no-fly zone and "all necessary measures" short of deploying troops on the ground was approved Thursday by the U.N. Security Council. In his announcement Friday from the White House, Obama pledged to support the Security Council's decision along "with our allies and partners to shape a strong international response."
"Our focus has been clear: protecting innocent civilians within Libya, and holding the Gadhafi regime accountable," he said.
Obama noted that the Security Council's resolution "authorizes the use of force with an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing, to include the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya."
He said he directed Defense Secretary Robert Gates "and our military to coordinate their planning."
"We will provide unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partner to effectively enforce a no-fly zone," Obama said.
"I have no doubt that the men and women of our military are capable of carrying out this mission."
During the Persian Gulf War, which preceded the no-fly zone over Iraq after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was quashed, Nellis Air Force Base deployed more than 1,000 personnel in support of those operations.
Airmen from the main base deployed mainly in support roles including medical, security forces, civil engineering services, transportation and maintenance.
The 37th Tactical Fighter Wing deployed F-117A Nighthawk stealth warplanes from the Tonopah Test Range. They were the only aircraft to bomb key targets in Baghdad during the first night of the war.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.