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Thursday, March 31, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Intel: Rebels divided, NATO flying 'too high', Gadhafi in control

WASHINGTON — Despite heavy Western missile fire, the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi remains firmly in control of large parts of the North African state.


Western intelligence sources said the NATO no-fly zone has failed to stop Gadhafi's forces from advancing against the rebel movement. They said the Libyan military, after initial setbacks, has adapted to NATO air patrols and bombing missions.

"The Libyans are getting help from the Chinese and Russians on how to fight even with the [NATO] planes overhead," an intelligence source assigned to monitor Libya said. "So far, these planes are flying too high to make a significant difference in ground combat."

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On March 30, Gadhafi troops employed Russian-origin main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and rockets to repel a rebel advance and capture Ras Lanouf, Sider as well as other oil towns, Middle East Newsline reported. The rebels said NATO, which on March 27 assumed formal responsibility for the mission from the United States, provided no combat air support during the battle.

"The rebels are completely incapable of staging any offensive," the source said. "If NATO wants to get rid of Gadhafi, it will have to do so itself."

The intelligence sources said the rebels, despite NATO's decimation of Libya's air force and navy, remained divided and unable to counter Gadhafi's firepower. They said this has prevented the rebels from exploiting the NATO no-fly zone and retake cities lost to Gadhafi over the last two weeks.

A key rebel target has been Sirte, Gadhafi's home city. In March, the rebels twice failed to attack the city, and instead were driven back hundreds of kilometers in a Gadhafi counter-offensive.

The sources said Britain and the United States were providing limited training and equipment support to the Libyan rebels. But they said the Western support has failed to overcome deep divisions within the rebel movement.

"As we publicly debate the next steps on Libya, I do not support arming the Libyan rebels at this time," House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers said on March 30. "We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them."

So far, most NATO members, who met in London on March 30, were said to oppose direct combat support to the rebels. U.S. President Barack Obama, who over the last week has turned into an enthusiastic supporter of the NATO mission, has not dismissed the prospect of arming the rebels.

"I'm not ruling it out," Obama said. "But I'm also not ruling it in. We're still making an assessment partly about what Gadhafi's forces are going to be doing."

NATO leaders have acknowledged that the no-fly zone was insufficient to even threaten the Gadhafi regime. They said this could result in the mission lasting until the end of 2011, a prospect opposed by most NATO members.

"We are going to tip the balance [for the rebels]," a European Union diplomat said in a briefing.

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