WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday the Arab League had reaffirmed the coalition military action being taken against Libya.
Speaking to reporters aboard a military aircraft bound for Russia, Gates said the league's action was "very important, because the initiative first came from those in the region," the Defense Department said in a release.
Several Arab nations have given the United States strong indications they would participate in the military action aimed at preventing Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi from using his air force against his own people. So far, Qatar is the only Arab state to provide aircraft for the coalition effort.
"This is a new endeavor for them, and the notion that it takes them a while to get it organized shouldn't be a surprise," Gates said.
Gates comments came after the Arab League's leader, Amr Moussa, said in Cairo that the attack on Libya had gone too far.
"What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone," he said in a statement carried by Egypt's Middle East News Agency. "And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians."
The defense secretary said the coalition is not being run by NATO to assuage Arab concerns about being seen as operating under a NATO umbrella.
Gates also said the military-backed no-fly zone is not the only leverage the international community is using to try to bring about Gadhafi's departure.
"The tool box we bring with us to this [military action] has things in it in addition to hammers," Gates said. "There's a whole range of political and economic sanctions and a variety of other actions that have been taken."