Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rebels Overrun in Libyan Oil Towns

Updated 11 p.m. edt

There is a good chance airstrikes that can help the retreating Libyan rebels in the eastern coastal cities will resume once sandstorms die down, a well-placed diplomatic source said tonight.

"The French and British want the strikes to resume," the source said. "It's the weather, not politics... Nobody wants to see one of their jets go down in a sandstorm."

The running rebel force of about 1,000 poorly trained and ill-equipped fighters in somewhere between Brega and Ajdabiya, fleeing Moammar Gadhafi's armor and tactically superior force.

CIA operatives, meanwhile, may already be on the ground in Libya, trying to link up with the rebel forces and help them in any way. The covert operators theoretically will have the capability to communicate with the NATO coalition, perhaps changing the game on the ground as if they end up spotting and painting targets for the Western and Arab aircraft.

There were also reports that British intelligence operatives also will be on the ground in Libya to help the rebels.

On the political front, Gadhafi suffered a setback when his Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, an ex-Libyan intelligence chief, resigned and sought refuge in London. Kusa had been talking to the State Department for days.

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Updated 6:30 p.m. edt

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the Reuters report today that President Barack Obama signed a secret order sometime the past three weeks authorizing covert operations in support of Libyan rebels.

"As is common practice for this and all Administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters. I will reiterate what the President said yesterday – no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya," Carney said.

"We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in. We’re assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters," Carney added.

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Updated 4:30 p.m. edt

This just moved a short while ago on the Reuters wire. It could give the Libyan rebels something to be hopeful about as they fall back under assault by Moammar Gadhafi's forces:

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

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Easy Come, easy go.

Over the weekend Libyan rebels captured the key oil ports of eastern Libya and began talk of selling oil through Qatar. Today the 1,000-man rebel "army" has been pushed out of those towns by Moammar Gadhafi's better-armed force.

Scratch Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf and Brega off the rebels "captured" list. The force is now pulling back to Ajdabiya. The New York Times has a money quote today from a rebel spokesman on the "tactical" withdrawal: "(The rebel force) dissolved like snow in the sand."

Did anyone really think Gadhafi would give up the eastern oil patch without a fight?

The high-speed retreat points to how essential the road-clearing air cover was to the rebels' swift advance over the weekend. Now under the control of NATO, there were no fighter jets seen today for a second-straight day flying above in eastern Libya. Instead, coalition warplanes were striking Misurata, where a rebel force is surrounded by Gadhafi armor.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are on Capitol Hill today for secret briefings on Libya and Gadhafi.

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