U.S. military: Libya vote won't impact Japan mission

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:35 AM

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said a vote by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya would not negatively impact its massive relief mission in Japan.

The assurance was given just hours after the U.N. vote by the head of U.S. forces in the Pacific region, Admiral Robert Willard, who also said the U.S. armed forces had a "long list" of capabilities to help Japan deal with its nuclear crisis.

"We don't anticipate any negative effects from the standpoint of the United (Nations) Security Council actions today," Willard said, briefing reporters at the Pentagon remotely from his headquarters in Hawaii.

Willard said the United States was fortunate to have enough forces deployed overseas "so that we can conduct these kind of operations simultaneously."

The U.S. relief operation outstrips even last year's effort in Haiti, with 20 ships already offshore around Japan and U.S. forces on the mainland mobilizing to deliver aid.

"I would offer that I have additional options to bring either relieving forces in or augmentation forces to bear if I need to," Willard said. "So I think we were in a good posture to begin with."

The Security Council vote could thrust the U.S. military into risky new overseas action and follows a dramatic pivot by Washington, which had been accused of moving too slowly to support Libyan rebels as Muammar Gaddafi's forces looked poised to snuff out their uprising.

The Pentagon, already stretched by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is still ramping up its relief efforts in Japan, which beyond delivering food and water to survivors has also including providing Japan with radiation data and aerial video of the crippled Fukushima power plant.

Japanese engineers were racing to restore a power cable to the quake-ravaged nuclear power plant in hopes of restarting pumps needed to pour cold water on overheating fuel rods and avert a catastrophic release of radiation.

Willard said he was cautiously optimistic, and added the United States had provided the Japanese military with "a long list of areas in which we believe we can help."

The Pentagon has already dispatched a nine-member team specializing in biological and nuclear hazards to advise Japan's military. More could be deployed, if necessary.

"I have requested a force of about 450 radiological and consequence management experts to be available to us. They're on a prepare-to-deploy order," Willard said.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)