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Gaddafi’s army not close to breaking, US warns

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-31

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, warned Thursday that a victory over Gaddafi's forces was not imminent despite the successes. Mullen added that this was despite 20% to 25% of Gaddafi’s military being knocked out.

AFP- The United States warned Thursday that forces loyal to Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi were not about to break as his troops pursued rebels eastwards a day after a key regime aide defected.

AFP reporters said running battles raged on the edge of Brega, with regime forces shelling the insurgents who replied with Grad rockets and rocket-propelled grenades.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told US lawmakers about 20 to 25 percent of Kadhafi's military had been knocked out by NATO-led bombing but "that does not mean he's about to break from a military standpoint."

A day after Kadhafi's forces overran the key oil hub Ras Lanuf and neighbouring villages, the frontline ebbed and flowed on the outskirts of Brega, about 800 kilometres (500 miles) from Tripoli.

Shells thumped across the desert north of the road, sending up black clouds of smoke as the rebels responded with a barrage of rockets that flared into the distance.

Clashes also ensued around an oil terminal, but it was unclear who was in control of the town, which the rebels had retaken at the weekend, only to lose it again on Wednesday.

Experts said the opposition lacks anti-tank weapons, radios and other basics, but above all the disjointed, chaotic force needs rudimentary training.

As a debate raged over whether Western powers should arm the insurgents, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen ruled out such a move.

"We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm people," Rasmussen told reporters.

"As far as NATO is concerned, and I speak on behalf of NATO, we will focus on the enforcement of the arms embargo and the clear purpose of an arms embargo is to stop the flow of weapons into the country," he said, hours after NATO took full command of all Libyan operations on Thursday.

US, British, French, Canadian, Danish and Belgian jets have attacked Kadhafi's ground forces since March 19 under a UN mandate to use "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

In Washington, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that economic and political pressure and Libya's people rather than the military strikes will eventually oust Kadhafi.

"However, this NATO-led operation can degrade Kadhafi’s military capacity to the point where he -- and those around him -- will be forced into a very different set of choices and behaviours in the future," Gates said in prepared testimony to a key US House of Representatives committee.

He also said it was highly unlikely Al-Qaeda would manage to "hijack" the uprising in Libya.

"I think that the future government of Libya is going to be worked out among the principal tribes," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee.

"So I think that for some outside group or some element of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to be able to hijack this thing at this point looks very unlikely to me."

France, which on Tuesday had indicated it was ready to discuss sending arms to the insurgents, on Thursday said it was not compatible with UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

"Such assistance is not on the agenda because it is not compatible with resolution 1973" that authorised UN members to intervene to protect civilians, Defence Minister Gerard Longuet told reporters.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a joint news conference in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron supplying weapons to Libya's rebel fighters could be "conducive to terrorism."

The rebels, meanwhile, are treating as "classified" any talks or moves aimed at procuring weapons from foreign powers, a spokesman told reporters in their Benghazi stronghold.

However the spokesman, Mustafa Gheriani, did say: "We are trying to specify the type of weapons we want."

"It's naive not to think we are going to arm ourselves," said Gheriani.

On the humanitarian front, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said it was "absolutely essential that humanitarian access is given to all those in need of assistance where they might be in Libya."

Wednesday's defection of foreign minister Mussa Kussa, the most senior figure to jump ship since the uprising against Kadhafi's iron-fisted 41-year rule erupted more than six weeks ago, was widely seen as a sign of a crumbling regime.

Kussa flew to Farnborough, west of London, a Foreign Office statement said.

"He travelled here under his own free will. He has told us that he is resigning his post," it added.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that Kussa, who has been blamed for atrocities including the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in Scotland, had not been offered immunity from prosecution in British or international courts.

Scottish prosecutors said they had requested an interview with Kussa over the Lockerbie bombing.

Hague told reporters Kussa was being interviewed "voluntarily" by British officials.

In Tripoli, the government confirmed the "resignation" of Kussa and said he was allowed to leave for medical treatment in neighbouring Tunisia.

Defected immigration minister Ali Errishi told France 24 television Kussa's defection was a "sign that the regime's days are numbered."

"It is the end... it is a blow to the regime (and) others will follow," said Errishi who defected soon after the insurrection began.

"Kussa was his most trusted aide. Kadhafi no longer has anybody. It's just him and his kids."

Washington said the defection would provide critical intelligence.

"Mussa Kussa is one of Kadhafi's most trusted aides who can help provide critical intelligence about Kadhafi's current state of mind and military plans," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

"It also demonstrates that the people around Kadhafi understand his regime is in disarray."

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that the United States and Britain had inserted covert intelligence agents into Libya to make contact with rebels and to gather data to guide coalition air strikes.

The White House refused to comment on the apparent shadow war and also declined to discuss another report that President Barack Obama had signed a secret order allowing Central Intelligence Agency operations in the country.

As Western leaders plotted his downfall, Libya's eccentric leader warned that they had started something in Libya which they cannot control.

"They have started something dangerous, something they cannot control. It will be out of their control no matter what methods of destruction they have at their disposal," Kadhafi said.


Date created : 2011-03-31


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