Libya: US extends airstrike role; another Gaddafi man quits

Last Updated: Monday, April 4, 2011 - 11:13

Brega: The United States agreed to extend air strikes in Libya into Monday as the oil town of Brega saw heavy fighting, with rebel forces advancing only to fall back after an ambush by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

The US airstrikes, part of a coalition effort to protect civilians from Gaddafi`s forces, would continue through Monday at NATO`s request, because of "recent poor weather in Libya”, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The US military had planned to begin withdrawing its combat jets and Tomahawk missiles from the air campaign against Libya`s regime this weekend, as NATO allies were to take the lead in bombing Gaddafi`s forces.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi was hit by another defection.

Former foreign minister and UN General Assembly president Ali Treiki became the latest official to abandon Gaddafi, after the flight to Britain of foreign minister and regime stalwart Mussa Kussa days earlier.

A British delegation was also reported to be in the Libyan rebel bastion of Benghazi in the east, nearly a month after a botched bid by special forces to contact the insurgency caused red faces in London when the team was captured.

Rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani confirmed the presence of a British group in the country`s second largest city for talks with the Transitional National Council (TNC) on Sunday.

A British Foreign Office spokesperson also confirmed the trip, saying the team was led by Christopher Prentice, who also visited Libya last week.

The spokesperson said the aim of the trip was to "engage with key figures" on the TNC, "build on the work of the previous team and seek to establish further information" about the council and its aims.

On March 07, London called the seizure by rebels of a team -- reportedly six elite Special Air Service troopers and two diplomats -- in a botched attempt to contact the insurgency the result of a "serious misunderstanding”.

Gaddafi`s foreign affairs secretary of state, Abdelati Obeidi, was in Athens to meet Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Sunday "at the request of the Libyan Prime Minister”, Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi, Papandreou`s office said.

On the front line, rebels who had entered the eastern town of Brega early on Sunday said they were staging a tactical withdrawal after being ambushed.

A correspondent saw some 300 to 400 fighters regrouping on the road back into rebel-held territory some 10 kilometres (six miles) to the east.

Republican Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said there may be strains of al Qaeda within the rebel ranks and that the coalition should proceed with caution before arming them.

"We know they`re against Muammar Gaddafi remaining in power, but we don`t know what they are for," Rogers said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid advocated a "wait and see" approach to giving the opposition forces weapons.

"I think at this stage we really don`t know who the leaders of this rebel group are," said Reid, D-Nevada.

But Rogers also warned that if there were a stalemate in Libya, a cornered Gaddafi might resort to extreme measures against the opposition forces, such as the use of chemical weapons. Rogers said he has been to Libya and seen Gaddafi`s chemical weapons.

"I think you have to worry that he`s a terrorist threat," Rogers said.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R- South Carolina, said the coalition needs to take the air war to Libya`s capital where Gaddafi and his inner circle are located. Striking targets in Tripoli will further fracture Gaddafi`s government and push the Libyan leader from power, he said.

"The way to end this war is to have Gaddafi`s inner circle to crack," Graham said. "The way to get his inner circle to crack is to go after them directly."

Like Rogers, Graham said he`s concerned over the prospect of a stalemate in Libya. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he faulted President Barack Obama for putting the US into a supporting role and shifting the main combat burden to Britain, France and other NATO allies.

The town has been the scene of intense exchanges for several days, with both sides advancing only to withdraw again later under fire.

Treiki, the latest in a string of officials to abandon the Gaddafi regime, met Arab League chief Amr Mussa for talks in Cairo on Sunday.

Treiki resigned his official duties as an adviser to Gaddafi but did not pledge allegiance to the rebels, Arab League sources said.

He was Tripoli`s envoy to the United Nations until 2009 when he became president of the UN General Assembly.

Retired US general James Jones, who until last October was President Barack Obama`s national security adviser, said the Libya endgame was more "vital" to Europe than to the United States.

He also acknowledged on Sunday talk shows that Gaddafi`s ouster was the ultimate goal in the coalition air campaign.

In other developments on the region, the New York Times reported Washington appears to be backing away from support from Yemen`s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the belief he is unlikely to carry out needed reforms.

The United States said separately Sunday said it authorised family members of US government employees to leave Syria as it heightened a travel warning for the country being roiled by political unrest.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, April 4, 2011 - 11:13

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