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Wednesday, March 30, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Obama administration still deeply split on Libya

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama remains divided over the NATO mission against Libya.


Administration sources said the division over Libya has moved through the White House as well as the Defense Department and State Department. They said even the biggest supporters of U.S. participation in the NATO no-fly zone against the regime of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi remained uncertain of the goals of the mission.

"There is a general consensus that Gadhafi must go, but no clear vision of how to achieve this and the price to be paid," an administration source said.

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The sources said the biggest supporters of a lead U.S. role in the NATO mission have been Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, and National Security Council member Samantha Power. They said the three officials have been lobbying for direct U.S. help to the Libyan rebels for an advance on Tripoli despite their links to Al Qaida and Hizbullah.

"We have not made that decision [on military aid to the rebels], but we've not certainly ruled that out," Ms. Rice said on March 29.

In contrast, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community want a rapid U.S. withdrawal from the NATO mission. The sources said the military and intelligence community were warning that Washington must leave Libya before "it turns messy."

On Oct. 29, U.S. European Command chief Adm. James Stavridis, in an assessment disputed by the administration, said Libyan rebels were believed linked to Al Qaida and Hizbullah. Stavridis said U.S. intelligence has still not formed a complete picture of the rebel movement.

"We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential Al Qaida, Hizbullah," Stavridis told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "We've seen different things. But at this point I don't have detail sufficient to say there is a significant Al Qaida presence or any other terrorist presence."

National Security Advisor Tom Donlion and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have led the opposition to a major U.S. role in Libya. The two have asserted that such a mission would stretch U.S. sources and lead to another long-term military deployment.

"The UN-backed action is limited to preventing Gadhafi from slaughtering his own people," Gates said.

Analyst Josh Rogin said Ms. Power has persuaded Obama that his foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, would be endangered unless the United States acts against Gadhafi. Ms. Power has been a leading proponent of an international campaign to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank regardless of Israel's consent.

"The president has argued our interests and our values cannot be separated," Ms. Power said on March 28. "These values have caused the people of Libya to risk their lives on the street."

For his part, Obama said the United States has moved from a combat to support role in the NATO mission. The president said this marked the beginning of a U.S. exit strategy from Libya.

"We'll still be in a support role, we'll still be providing jamming, and intelligence and other assets that are unique to us," Obama said. "But this is an international effort that's designed to accomplish the goals that were set out in the Security Council resolution."

But even Obama supporters in Congress have expressed concern that Washington could be embroiled in a long-term mission while the rest of NATO quietly withdraws. Both Democrats and Republicans have also demanded that the administration define its mission in Libya as well as exit strategy. On March 30, senior administration officials were scheduled to brief Congress on Libya.

"Many questions remain about U.S. short, medium, and long term goals," House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. "I will continue to press for more answers from the administration on the U.S. political and military objectives going forward, the nature and extent of U.S. involvement, the potential implications for vital U.S. interests, and what would constitute the completion of the mission."

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