How Do U.S. Military Planners View Libya Mission?

While European countries are sending military experts to Libya to help advise the rebels, the U.S. is sending non-lethal aid. That would be items such as radios, binoculars and ambulances.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

OK, so that's the view from Europe. Now for some perspective on how U.S. military planners and policymakers view the mission in Libya, we turn to NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Good morning, Mary Louise.

LOUISE KELLY: So as we've just heard, several European countries are sending military advisors. The U.S. is not doing that. Tell us more about what the U.S. is doing.

BOWMAN: Well, the U.S. has just decided to send what it calls non-lethal aid. Basically no weapons of any kind, but up to $25 million of tents, armored vests, binoculars and also packaged meals. Things like that.

LOUISE KELLY: Okay, so packaged meals, binoculars. I mean let's be clear. This is not weapons, non-lethal aid that they're sending to the opposition.

What is the hope for what this will achieve?

BOWMAN: Well, President Obama said through a spokesman, he believes this will help the rebels. But again, NATO's not giving the rebels any kind of weaponry. And even if they did, as our correspondents in other news media have reported from Libya, the rebel forces are few in number and really not a competent fighting force. Even if you gave them weapons and training, it would take a long time to get them up to speed.

LOUISE KELLY: OK, well, one thing that President Obama has firmly ruled out is sending U.S. ground forces. I want to play for you what he said in his address to the nation. This is back on March 28th. And the president said no question, everyone would be better off without Gadhafi in power...

BARACK OBAMA: But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake. If we tried to overthrow Gadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission, or risk killing many civilians from the air.

LOUISE KELLY: OK, so the president has made clear no U.S. troops on the ground, but Tom, both with this new $25 million in U.S. assistance, with European countries sending in military advisors, it does seem as though the Western powers are getting more involved in the conflict. I mean we just heard the question raised in Eleanor's story, there. Is this mission creep?

BOWMAN: You know, I think it is. NATO's clearly moving more and more in direction of the rebels, but it's in very small steps. And the problem is the fighting is now at a stalemate. You know, you have Gadhafi riding around Tripoli pumping his fists in the air. His forces are hunkered down in the cities with their armored vehicles around schools and hospitals. So that makes it difficult for NATO planes to strike them without hurting civilians. So it really is, at this point, a stalemate.

LOUISE KELLY: You've used that word, stalemate, a couple of times. Is there any sense of how long this fighting might last, how long this war might last, how long the U.S. and its NATO allies are prepared to stick it out in Libya?

BOWMAN: Well, some people have said weeks or maybe even months. And the sense is, from the people I talk with at the Pentagon, is you have to put a lot more military pressure on Gadhafi, maybe more targeted air strikes. There are also reports that the European Union is drawing up plans to send about a thousand fighters, well troops, rather, to help provide humanitarian aid and maybe fight if their work is threatened. Those troops, of course, were to add more pressure to Gadhafi.

And also officials say they hope all of this will end by maybe Gadhafi going to exile. There's talks, right now, that maybe another country will take him, maybe another country in Africa. But at this point he shows no sign of leaving at all and that stalemate continues.

LOUISE KELLY: And presumably at some point NATO would need more weapons. I mean the U.S.A. already said it's non-lethal, NATO has said it needs more planes and other supplies.

BOWMAN: Right, and NATO of course has been pressuring the U.S. to do more, to send more warplanes. But at this point, the U.S. has said that those warplanes were on call. And the U.S., at this point, shows no sign of taking the lead once again of this effort. They want to keep NATO in the lead here.

LOUISE KELLY: All right. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Mary Louise.

LOUISE KELLY: That's NPR's Tom Bowman.

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LOUISE KELLY: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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