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U.S. Looks For Ways To Break Libya Stalemate

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U.S. Looks For Ways To Break Libya Stalemate

U.S. Looks For Ways To Break Libya Stalemate

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been more than four months since NATO launched its first airstrikes in Libya against the forces of Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, opposition forces have gained ground, but so far, Gadhafi's military is holding firm. As NPR's Rachel Martin reports, the conflict has turned into a complicated waiting game.

RACHEL MARTIN: It doesn't matter who says it...

BARACK OBAMA: The violence must stop. Moammar Gadhafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.

MARTIN: ...or how many times

HILLARY CLINTON: It is time for Gadhafi to go now without further violence or delay.

MARTIN: Moammar Gadhafi is clearly not listening. The U.S. and NATO have been launching airstrikes on Gadhafi's forces since March. The goal, to prevent Gadhafi's troops from waging war on the Libyan people by destroying his weapons, equipment and military command and control centers. And if Gadhafi himself happened to be caught up in one of these airstrikes, so be it. But after four months, some on Capitol Hill are starting to lose patience.

I mean, he is hanging on. And I've often said that the sooner he is removed, the quicker this gets resolved.

Republican Congressman Mike Rogers is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Harsh words, I know. But the longer the stalemate goes, then you have people selling weapons caches for cash, you have chemical stockpiles that look pretty tempting. There's a lot of buyers on the black market for that stuff.

And Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the clock has been working against NATO forces.

When you let something fester this long and you have an extremely weak rebel force, Gadhafi's forces have time to adapt. They use different weapons. They become far less visible targets. They start relying on land mines. They have more time in which to try to divide the people and intimidate.

NATO: NATO and the rebel force on the one side, an unyielding Moammar Gadhafi on the other. And the Obama administration is looking for ways to tip the scales. One U.S. official is pushing for the U.S. to use clandestine action to target Gadhafi. The CIA has operatives on the ground in Libya. But so far, U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence operation there say their role is limited to gathering intelligence about Gadhafi's forces.

Those same U.S. officials say morale within the regime's military is slipping. There's been a steady stream of defections of officers and troops. Congressman Mike Rogers says those defections haven't been enough to push Gadhafi out.

He is still firmly in charge and firmly in control of the military apparatus that the rebels are having a hard time engaging.

The other way to break the stalemate, give the rebels the weapons they need to win decisively. But that is controversial. According to one U.S. official, opposition leaders have asked the U.S. for tanks, artillery and heavy machine guns. So far, the U.S. has said no.

Still, even without that help, the Libyan rebels have kept up the fight. According to one U.S. official, the rebels struck a key blow to Gadhafi a couple weeks ago when they severed a major fuel pipeline that feeds a regime refinery in Azzawiya, about 30 miles outside Tripoli. That's a big part of the NATO strategy, bleed Gadhafi of money and resources until he surrenders.

The problem is that the Libyan people, the same people NATO is trying to protect, suffer too. There are food shortages in Tripoli and long lines for fuel. The CIA estimates that before the current crisis, a third of the Libyan population was living at the poverty level. Anthony Cordesman says the last few months have made things even worse.

Nobody has enough momentum to stop this from becoming what it already is: agonizing, drawn out process doing immense economic damage to the Libyan people in which no one can be certain of the outcome.

In other words, the NATO operation meant to prevent one kind of humanitarian crisis may be contributing to another. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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