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American military intervention in the Libyan crisis took a step closer to becoming a reality on Monday, as the Obama administration announced plans to position air and naval forces near the North African nation. Surprisingly, for a leftist administration that appears to mistrust American military power, a formidable aircraft carrier will be included in these forces, one of the Navy’s most powerful surface vessels. International leaders and analysts, meanwhile, appear to be preparing for the possibility that the apparent standoff between rebel and regime forces will escalate into a bloody, protracted civil war.
After more than a week of making only bland statements about the Libyan crisis, Hillary Clinton, who was in Geneva on Monday to meet with other foreign ministers, strongly indicated the government would use force to stop the bloodshed in Libya that has caused an unknown number of dead (estimated, however, to run in the hundreds).
“Nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens,” Secretary Clinton said.
Clinton is not alone in making this sudden about-face. British Prime Minister David Cameron was even more explicit than the secretary of state, when he spoke about using “military assets” to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. Cameron is asking his defense ministry to draw up a plan. But before a no-fly plan could be implemented, Italy’s foreign minister said a UN mandate would be needed, and his British equivalent, William Hague, agreed, saying “very strong international support” was required.
While Clinton was speaking in Geneva, President Obama was dealing with concerns regarding a UN mandate for action when he met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at the White House on Monday to discuss anti-Gaddafi measures. The UN had adopted sanctions against Libya on Sunday, which included an arms embargo and a travel ban on Gaddafi family members. Obama imposed his own sanctions on the Libyan regime on Friday evening, signing an executive order blocking transactions involving Libyan government assets. So far, the Treasury Department states these assets have added up to $30 billion, making it “the largest amount ever seized in an American sanctions action,” according to a New York Times report.
After the Obama-Ban Ki Moon meeting, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, told journalists at the White House that discussions dealt primarily with “efforts to end the bloodshed” in Libya. However, Rice said it was still too “early” to consider military action. In her comments, Ambassador Rice also called Gaddafi “delusional” for saying the Libyan people still loved him.
The reason the administration and its allies are suddenly interested in a military solution to the Libyan crisis is likely because a sober assessment of the situation has revealed the Libyan dictator cannot be defeated, at least quickly, by the opposition, and a protracted stalemate could ensue. While the media gave the impression last week that anti-Gaddafi fighters would soon be in Tripoli, the Libyan dictator’s forces proved on Monday they were far from defeated. Regime loyalists launched an offensive, which saw the use of warplanes and, according to an anti-Gaddafi officer, the capture of the town of Ras Lanoof. The Wall Street Journal also reports that 3,000 pro-Gaddafi fighters arrived from Libya’s interior to reinforce Sirte, the Gaddafi tribe’s stronghold on the Mediterranean coast.
The fact European countries now intend to supply anti-Gaddafi forces with weapons underlines the opposition’s equipment plight and indicates that the conflict may be a drawn-out one. Despite the defections from the Libyan military, the anti-government opposition faces an uphill battle against Gaddafi’s forces, which have entrenched themselves in the Tripoli area. A reason for this is that, while the opposition forces may dispose of greater numbers, their core of defectors from Libya’s 50,000 man army, “half of whom are conscripts,” is neither well-trained nor well-armed. The military publication, Strategy Page, states the Libyan army was never “a significant factor in the country, and is neither as large, well-equipped, nor as professional as Egypt’s.”
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