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U.S., allies ponder arming Libyan rebels

WASHINGTON — The United States and its allies are considering whether to supply weapons to the Libyan opposition as coalition airstrikes fail to dislodge government forces from around key contested towns, according to U.S. and European officials.

France actively supports training and arming the rebels, and the Obama administration believes the United Nations resolution that authorized international intervention in Libya has the "flexibility" to allow such assistance, "if we thought that were the right way to go," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. It was a "possibility," he said.

Gene Cretz, the recently withdrawn U.S. ambassador to Libya, said administration officials were having "the full gamut" of discussions on "potential assistance we might offer, both on the nonlethal and the lethal side," but no decisions had been made.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to talk about discussions within the coalition, said there is a legal debate about whether the allies can arm the rebels, the Washington Post reported.

The coalition has stepped up its outreach to the opposition, inviting one of its senior leaders to a high-level international conference in London on Tuesday, called to determine future political strategy in Libya.

Increased focus on aiding the rebels came as NATO reached final agreement on taking over command and control of all aspects of the Libya operation, including U.S.-led airstrikes against forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, at NATO's Joint Forces Command headquarters in Naples, Italy, is expected to take command of the operation early next week.

President Barack Obama scheduled a speech to the nation Monday night "to update the American people" on actions taken on Libya, the White House announced.

He briefed a bipartisan group of nearly two dozen congressional leaders in a call Friday afternoon and was asked repeatedly about the goal of the operation and how long it would take.

His emphasis on the mission's humanitarian objectives and plans to decrease U.S. involvement as other nations increase their roles, appeared to satisfy some, but not all.

In a Pentagon briefing, U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, said that so far the U.S.-led attacks had not had a discernible impact on the ability of Gadhafi's forces to fight and attack Libya's cities.

As U.S. and allied forces bring in more surveillance aircraft, he said, they should be able to mount more lethal attacks on Gadhafi's ground forces.

Son was in U.S.: The State Department helped facilitate an educational visit to the United States this year by Gadhafi's youngest son, Khamis Gadhafi, 27, according to the U.S. company that hosted the visit. AECOM, an engineering and architectural design firm based in California, said it invited the son as part of its business dealings with the Libyan government. He has since become a top figure in the crackdown on Libyan protesters.

U.S., allies ponder arming Libyan rebels 03/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2011 10:59pm]
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