MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
NPR's Tom Bowman reports.
TOM BOWMAN: The long missions in Iraq and Afghanistan were on the minds of many lawmakers today, now at Libya. The committee's chairman, Congressman Buck McKeon, a California Republican, got right to the point with Defense Secretary Gates.
BUCK MCKEON: How long do you anticipate our military mission will last?
ROBERT GATES: The military mission is a limited one and does not include regime change. Personally, I felt strongly about that. We've tried regime change before, and sometimes it's worked, and sometimes it's taken 10 years.
BOWMAN: Here's Admiral Mullen.
MIKE MULLEN: NATO has evolved in ways where they are really contributing significant amount of capability in four aspects of this mission: no-fly zone, arms embargo, civilian protection and humanitarian assistance. And I think they will continue to do that.
BOWMAN: Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland reminded Gates that a similar effort worked in overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
ROSCOE BARTLETT: Do you see the use of CIA and U.S. Special Forces in Libya as following the blueprint we used in Afghanistan?
GATES: I can't speak to any CIA activities, but I will tell you that the president has been quite clear that in terms of the United States military, there will be no boots on the ground.
BOWMAN: Just not military boots. All day, Secretary Gates tried to limit what he talked about to the military's role, which he hopes is on a decline. But the legislators wouldn't let him. Democratic Congressman Rob Andrews of New Jersey pushed Gates to define success beyond the military for the entire U.S. government.
ROB ANDREWS: What would that look like?
GATES: Well, I think a policy success would be the removal of the Gadhafi regime and at least the beginnings of the emergence of a, more or less, democratic government in Tripoli.
BOWMAN: What kind of government might come to power after Gadhafi is anyone's guess. NATO's military commander, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, told Congress this week the Libyan rebels may include some members with ties to al-Qaida. Congressman Bartlett asked Gates about that.
BARTLETT: Sir, are we now aiding and abetting the same organizations that we are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq?
GATES: To be honest, other than a relative handful of leaders, we don't have much visibility into those who have risen against Gadhafi.
BOWMAN: Gates said the opposition, whoever they are, needs military training and a working command structure.
GATES: It's pretty much a pick-up ballgame at this point.
BOWMAN: So that's were things stand. The administration supports rebels it doesn't really know. Success is defined as the end of the Gadhafi regime, but the military isn't authorized to topple it, instead it hopes that economic and political isolation will cause the regime to fall. That's why Congressman Andrews asked this question.
ANDREWS: Do you have any sense of what the plan B would be if this one doesn't work?
GATES: I think keeping the pressure on Gadhafi has merit and is a worthy objective on its own.
BOWMAN: Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.
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