Questions loom about possibility of arming Libyan rebels

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. 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. 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.

"The Libyan rebels have said they want training by the Egyptian military. Other analysts noted the years-long U.S. effort to train the security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan--and wondered, given that ongoing effort, just how coalition members might manage to effectively arm and train the Libyan rebels in a relatively short time frame.

Western officials and analysts also noted that Gadhafi regime insiders have been placing phone calls to western embassies and intermediaries, with the aim of opening up negotiations to secure a cease-fire arrangement or exit plan for themselves or Gadhafi.
The former U.S. official also noted reports Wednesday that Musa Kusa--Libya's foreign minister and former longtime intelligence chief --was in Europe.

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