U.S.: Open season on Libya, Gadhafi

May 13, 2011

US and NATO forces move forward to decapitate the Libyan government.

The U.S. and NATO will continue military operations in Libya as long as Moammar Gadhafi keeps attacking his people, the White House said Friday as top U.S. officials met in Washington with leaders of the Libyan opposition.

The meetings come as a deadline nears on the 60-day window President Barack Obama has to keep the U.S. military involved in the Libya campaign without congressional approval. While lawmakers do not appear likely to enforce the limits outlined in the War Powers Resolution, U.S. officials said they are looking for ways to keep U.S. action in Libya in compliance.

White House spokesman Jay Carney offered no specifics Friday on how the U.S. planned to do that, only saying that officials were, “in regular communications with Congress and that will continue.”

Administration officials have been eager to show signs of progress in the Libyan bombing campaign, first led by the U.S. and now overseen by NATO. Obama met privately in the Oval Office on Friday with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and the White House said the two agreed that the military action would go on until Gadhafi’s assault on civilians stopped.

NATO has been intensifying airstrikes in several areas of Libya against Gadhafi’s troops in a bid to weaken his campaign against the rebel uprising. One of the recent strikes hit Gadhafi’s main compound in Tripoli, the capital, and more strikes were carried out Friday. The longtime leader appeared on state television Friday to say he had survived the assault.

The U.S. has stepped up its support of anti-Gadhafi rebels, with Obama authorizing $25 million in non-lethal assistance and $53 million in humanitarian aid. Leaders of the Libyan Transitional National Council, including top representative Mahmoud Jibril, were in Washington for meetings at the White House and State Department. Neither Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden planned to attend the meetings.

The White House said it was looking for ways to increase U.S. financial support to the opposition, in part through congressional legislation that would free up a portion of the more than $30 billion in frozen Gadhafi regime assets in U.S. banks so it could be used to aid the rebels.

“We believe that if we could access and use blocked government of Libya assets it could make a significant amount of money available to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people,” Carney said.

The rebels have said they need up to $3 billion in coming months for military salaries, food, medicine and other supplies. They also say no country has sent the arms they desperately need.

“If there is any country that is willing to arm us, we are happy to defend ourselves,” said Ali Tarhouni, the Council’s minister of finance and oil, after a meeting at the State Department on Friday. “This is a thug, a killer regime that took a peaceful movement and forced us to carry arms. It’s legitimate that we have arms to defend ourselves.”

Despite financially backing the opposition, the Obama administration says it has no plans at this point to recognize the Council as Libya’s legitimate government, as France and Italy have. Officials say too many questions remain about who exactly the rebels are and their long-term objectives.

“The question of recognition is one of many policy issues still under review,” Carney said.