U.S., NATO Allies Consider Military Action Against Libya

Congressional leaders prodded the Obama administration on Sunday for a more aggressive U.S. response to Libya’s increasingly brutal attacks on opposition groups – calling for a no-fly zone and other military measures – but White House officials cautioned against being drawn into a potentially protracted and costly military campaign.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, for the first time raised the possibility of bombing military airfields in Libya to deny the use of runways to Moammar Gaddafi’s air force. Two of the Senate’s top Republicans, Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and John McCain (Ariz.), also spoke in favor of U.S. military involvement to keep Libyan warplanes grounded.

Mitch McConnell said one option was “simply aiding and arming the insurgents,” noting that the United States often did this during the Cold War. (Reuters)

“We can’t risk allowing Gaddafi to massacre people from the air,” McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour.” (Washington Post)

But White House officials appeared to play down expectations of an expanded U.S. military role in the immediate future. While insisting that no options have been ruled out, White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley cited the difficulty of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, a vast country armed with modern, Russian-supplied antiaircraft defenses. “Lots of people through around phrases like no-fly zone,” Daley said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They talk about it as though it’s just a video game.” (Washington Post)

Derry’s remarks echoed the caution voiced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who dismissed a “loose talk” the clamor for a U.S.-led air campaign. Gates said that any effort to secure the skies over Libya, a country roughly the size of Alaska, would have to begin with military strikes on Gaddafi’s air defense network and would inevitably lead to an expanded U.S. mission.

Gates reiterated on Monday that any intervention in Libya would require broad backing. “At this point there is a sense that any action should be the result of international sanction,” he said during a trip to Afghanistan. (Reuters)

Kerry and other senators argued Sunday that Libya’s air force could be disabled without the kind of expense and commitment required to maintain previous no-fly zones in Iraq and the Balkans. The Massachusetts Democrat also called for turning over to rebel groups some of Gaddafi’s estimated $30 billion in frozen assets.

A no-fly zone is “not the only option for what one could do,” Kerry said. “One could crater the airports and the runways and leave them incapable of using them for a period of time,” he said on the CBS news program “Face the Nation.” McConnell, on the same program, said a no-fly zone was “worth considering.” (Washington Post)

The debate over U.S. options highlights the dilemma facing the Obama administration as Libya veers closer to all-out civil war. The White House is confronting a range of options, including increased humanitarian aid and different gradations of military intervention, although none is likely to end the violence immediately, administration officials concede.

Nor is the United States likely to gather enough international support in the short term to quickly push Gaddafi from power, the sources said. Russia and China, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have objected to any military action authorized by the United Nations, as has Brazil. The Arab League has also spoken out against any Western-backed military intervention and raised the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone in coordination with the nations of the African Union.

“I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Gaddafi,” said President Barack Obama during remarks in the Oval Office Monday. “It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward. And they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place.” (Toronto Star)

“It would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We need to get ahead of ourselves in terms of the options we’re pursuing.” (Reuters)

Senior Obama administration officials say days of fighting – along the east-west coastal road to Tripoli and in and around the Libyan capital itself – has resulted in a strategic deadlock on the ground. The administration is not ready yet, though, to call the situation a civil war.

Despite setbacks for the rebels in recent days, “parts of the country are firmly in opposition hands,” while Gaddafi appears to control other parts, said one senior administration official involved in designing Libya policy. (Washington Post) The situation opens up possibilities for relief efforts but also places constraints on what the Untied States and its allies can do in places held by Gaddafi loyalists. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations, said the United States has deployed humanitarian assessment teams to Libya’s borders. The teams are working with U.N. officials and others to speed the delivery of supplies, medicines and other materials to opposition areas in the east.

At the same time, the administration is stepping up its outreach to Libya’s largely unknown opposition, hoping, in the words of the official, to learn more about “who they are, what their structure is.” (Washington Post) The assessment could help determine next steps, including the possible adoption of a no-fly zone over parts of Libya that are in opposition hands.

Asked to respond to reports of mass civilian killings by forces loyal to Gaddafi in the town of Zawiyah, the official said, “Those reports are very disturbing, and we’re making efforts to gather more facts.” (Washington Post)

A Zawiya resident said government tanks and artillery opened fire on rebels around 9 a.m. and the attack hadn’t stopped when he left the city at 1:30 p.m. All entrances to the city were under government control and the rebels had been driven out of the city’s central Martyr’s Square and a nearby mosque by the heaviest attack in several days. “The tanks are everywhere,” he said. “The hospital is running out of supplies. There are injured everywhere who can’t find a place to go.” (Toronto Star)

Late last month, the administration refocused intelligence resources on Libya with an eye toward intelligence resources on Libya with an eye toward monitoring troop movements and gathering evidence of possible war crimes for future prosecution. Those efforts, too, are continuing.

Rebels also held much of Misrata, to the east of Tripoli about halfway to Sirte. But Valerie Amos, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said in a statement that the Benghazi Red Crescent reported that Misrata was under attack by government forces again Monday. There have been repeated government attempts to regain control of Misrata. “Humanitarian organizations need urgent access now,” she said. “People are injured and dying and need help immediately.” (Toronto Star)

Residents in Tripoli were awakened before dawn Sunday by the sound of artillery and gunfire in the streets. When they turned into state television broadcasts, they heard the stunning news: the Libyan military had routed the rebels seeking to oust Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The gunfire, they were told, was in celebration. “Before I turned on the television I was very worried and scared,” said Noura al-Said, 17, a student who went to celebrate in Green Square in central Tripoli. “But it was the best news I had ever heard. We had taken the whole country back!” (New York Times)

But Sunday was just another day spent through the looking glass of the oil-financed and omnipresent cult of personality that Colonel Gaddafi has spent 41 years building in Libya. Few of the claims by the Libyan state media lined up with the facts – there was no decisive victory by his forces – and the heavy firing in Tripoli on Sunday morning was never persuasively explained.

Not a day passes by in Tripoli without some improbable claim by Colonel Gaddafi or the top officials around him: there are no rebels or protesters in Libya; the people who are demonstrating have been drugged by al-Qaeda; no shots have been fired to suppress dissent. In an interview broadcast on Monday with the France 24 television station, Col. Gaddafi called his country a partner of the West in combating al-Qaeda, insisting that loyalist forces were confronting “small groupings” and “sleeper cells” of terrorists. He put the death toll on both sides at “some hundreds” disputing estimates that the tally ran to several thousand. (New York Times)

“What is clear is that Gaddafi has used violence on a large scale against his people, and that is the widely held view of the international community,” the administration official said. “We’re looking at every means possible for pressuring Gaddafi to stop the violence and leave and to signal to those around him that they, too, will be held accountable.” (Washington Post)

Some next steps will be discussed this week at the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s parliamentary arm. The planning body will hold a session every day this week before a Thursday meeting of NATO defense ministers. The administration official said such options as the electronic jamming of the Libyan government’s communication and a no-fly zone will be discussed.

“These decisions are so fact-dependent, and facts are very difficult to determine, yet we obviously want to do everything we can to stop mass atrocities,” the official said. “This fundamental stalemate we see now does pose some constraints on what we can do. But we’re looking at all the ways possible to stop the violence.” (Washington Post)

A senior U.S. official familiar with the administration’s deliberations on Libya denied a report in the British press that the administration had asked Saudi Arabia to arm the rebels. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told members of the British parliament, however, that “we are making contingency plans for all eventualities in Libya.” (CNN)

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Belgium that the organization has no immediate intention to intervene in the Libyan civil war. But “as a defense alliance and a security organization, it is our job to conduct prudent planning for any eventuality,” he said. Rasmussen stressed that it is important to “remain vigilant” in light of “systematic attacks” by Gaddafi’s regime against the Libyan population. “The violation of human rights and international humanitarian law is outrageous,” he said. Rasmussen also noted that the defense ministers from member states will meet Friday and Saturday to discuss how the organization can help partner countries in North Africa and the broader Middle East. “We can see a strong wind of change blowing across the region – and it is blowing in the direction of freedom and democracy,” he asserted. (CNN)

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