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Monday, March 14, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Obama backs opposition; 'Hardheaded' intel chief predicts Gadhafi will prevail

WASHINGTON — The United States has forged cooperation with the sagging opposition to the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi.


Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama has approved an accelerated effort to coordinate and aid the Libyan opposition amid intelligence assessments that Gadhafi would prevail. They said the administration's campaign also included incentives to Gadhafi loyalists to kill him or at least defect.

"We have been for a number of days, maybe longer than that, engaged, talking to opposition groups about what the needs of these groups, what their organization structure, the decision-making structures, their motivations, their goals are going forward," National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said. "And from that, those sets of encounters, we will be able to, I think we and others be able to construct in a more informed way the kinds of steps that we might take next."

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Officials said the State Department would take the lead in coordinating Libya's opposition in an effort to determine its immediate requirements. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she has scheduled meetings with opposition groups for a discussion of their vision of a post-Gadhafi Libya.

"Before someone carries out an attack on Libyan civilians they need to know they face a sharp choice and they need to know they'll be on the wrong side of history and we will ensure they face the consequences," Donilon said.

In a briefing on March 10, Donilon outlined the administration's strategy toward war-torn Libya. He said the United States has taken a series of measures to help the opposition to Gadhafi and was developing a range of military options against his regime.

"I want to underscore that we're suspending Libya's embassy in the United States," Donilon said. "We're not accepting Gadhafi's representatives in Washington. Over time, of course, this will really squeeze and tighten the containment effort around Gadhafi, encourage and provide incentives for those members of the Libyan government to disassociate themselves from Gadhafi."

Officials said Washington plans to send disaster assistance relief teams into eastern Libya. They said the United States has already been funding about a dozen organizations to provide humanitarian relief, mostly through neighboring Egypt.

At this point, Washington has drafted a range of options for military intervention in Libya for discussion by NATO in mid-March. Officials cited a NATO blockade of the Libyan coast of the Mediterranean Sea, arms embargo and a no-fly zone. NATO has already approved complete air reconnaissance over Libya and officials said additional measures would require Arab and African participation.

"We're going to be seeking actual support by those nations — the Arab League, the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and the African nations — to participate in any of these efforts as they go forward," Donilon said. "Again, not just rhetorical support, but actual participation, which we think is absolutely critical."

Officials acknowledged that previous assessments of a rapid ouster of Gadhafi proved incorrect. They said the opposition requires major help in driving Gadhafi's forces out of huge portions of Libya as well as fomenting strife with the regime in Tripoli. At this point, more than half of Libya was said to still be under Gadhafi's control.

"It looks like it's evolving into a very uneven civil war," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

The U.S. military and intelligence community has expressed the likelihood that Gadhafi would defeat the opposition. National Intelligence director James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the revolt in Libya has reached a stalemate and that Gadhafi could eventually win.

"Over the long term, the regime will prevail," Clapper said. "Gadhafi is in this for the long haul."

The White House immediately disputed the intelligence assessment. Officials said Clapper's remarks were based on a simple force-to-force comparision, in which Gadhafi remained superior.

"He was making a hardheaded assessment about military capability," Obama said on March 11. "And I don't think anybody disputes that Gadhafi has more firepower than the opposition. He wasn't stating policy."

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