Friday, April 22, 2011

McCain Assessing Libyan Rebels

Updated at 4:45 p.m. edt

The White House knew ahead of time that Sen. John McCain was taking a surprise trip to Libya and welcomes his outreach to the Libyan rebels.

However, the Obama administration showed no signs of meeting McCain's request that the United States join Italy, France and Qatar in recognizing the rebels Transitional National Council as the official government of Libya.

"We think it’s for the people of Libya to decide who the head of their country is, not for the United States to do that," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

McCain wants President Obama to release some of the $33 billion in frozen Libyan government assets to the rebels. But until the rebels are recognized, it makes it tricky to hand over any of Gadhafi's frozen billions of dollars to the rebels.

Obama is expected to turn over $25 million worth of "nonlethal" surplus military equipment once Obama signs off on the proposal. Secretary of State Hillarey Clinton recommended to Obama that he send the rebels the surpass supplies.

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Updated 1 p.m. edt

Sen. John McCain today called on the United States to recognize the Libyan rebel government and urged President Obama to release some of the $33 billion in frozen assets belonging to Moammar Gadhafi and others in Libya.

McCain received a hero's welcome in the nominal rebel capital of Benghazi, as did Obama's decision to deploy armed predator drones in the skies over Libya. The rebels told McCain the predators were a welcomed addition in the fight against Gadhafi's forces.

"He certainly raised the spirits of the rebels here in Benghazi," MSNBC's Richard Engel reported from Benghazi. "People here hope this will be the start of more military involvement from the United States."

In a rare victory for the insugents, hundreds of rebel fighters yesterday captured a remote border post near Tunisia, sending Gadhafi forces fleeing.

Meanwhile, here in Washington there are some murmurs over fears that the predators represent mission creep for the U.S. The Pentagon rejected the charge, emphasizing that the U.S. remains opposed to putting military boots on the ground.

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Sen. John McCain made a surprise visit overnight to Benghazi "to get an on-the-ground assessment of the situation" in Libya and meet with the rebel Transition National Council.

"They are my heroes," the Associated Press quoted McCain as saying of the rebels as he emerged from a Benghazi hotel.

McCain, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is in favor of arming the Libyan rebels, but he has been critical of NATO's handling of the air campaign since the United States turned over command to the alliance.

Meanwhile, the first predator drone attack in Libya was aborted yesterday because of lousy weather. NATO warplanes, however, struck targets overnight outside of the besieged city of Misurata.

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