Not long into the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya, a military stalemate appears to be taking shape. Forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi continue to hold key towns against incursions by Libyan rebels--and the fragile international coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes over the past 11 days in order to protect Libyan civilians from attack is now at odds over whether the Libyan rebels require more direct military assistance.
Coalition members are discussing a range of options, including increased NATO close air support to aid the rebels engaged in direct combat with Gadhafi's forces and efforts--in all likelihood carried out covertly--to arm and train the rebels. In an exclusive report for Reuters, Mark Hosenball writes that Obama has issued a secret presidential finding authorizing covert U.S. support for the Libyan rebels--a move that will almost certainly raise the stakes in Libya for the United States and its coalition partners, while making it harder to assure the ambivalent U.S. public that the conflict in Libya will produce a quick resolution.
Despite the reported finding, the White House, for its part, insisted that "no decision" on arming the rebels had yet been made.
"We're not ruling it out or ruling it in," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Wednesday. "We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people," in consultation, Carney added, with "international partners."
And talk of direct military assistance to the rebels has some Washington lawmakers and policymakers uneasy. They are leery of wading directly into a Libyan civil war, as opposed to the more limited kind of humanitarian intervention that President Barack Obama outlined in his speech to the nation on Monday. Then, the president stressed that the United States was intervening in order to avert a massacre of Libyan civilians that would have "stained the conscience of the world."
But now statements from the administration seem to signal a shift in thinking. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a conference on Libya in London Tuesday, said her reading of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 on Libya allowed for the arming of the Libyan rebels. At the same time, she insisted that the United States had not yet made any decision to do so.
A senior European diplomat, who spoke anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing discussions, said Wednesday that his country endorses a similar interpretation of the UN resolution--but added that his government favors "tipping the balance" decisively in favor of the Libyan opposition.
Former U.S. officials who have worked on Libya said they suspect that any plan to arm and train the rebels would be carried out covertly. Such initiatives would likely take shape via neighboring Egypt, the officials said—thereby bypassing the consensus-driven command structure of the NATO-led coalition that assumed command of Libya military operations Wednesday.Read More »from Questions loom about possibility of arming Libyan rebels