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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110307/ap_on_re_af/af_libya

By PAUL SCHEMM, Associated Press Paul Schemm, Associated Press 2 hrs 7 mins ago

RAS LANOUF, Libya – Libyan warplanes launched fresh airstrikes on rebel positions around a key oil port Monday, trying to block the opposition fighters from advancing toward Moammar Gadhafi’s stronghold in the capital, Tripoli.

Rebels in the area said they can take on Gadhafi’s elite ground forces, but are outgunned if he uses his air power.

“We don’t want a foreign military intervention, but we do want a no-fly zone,” said rebel fighter Ali Suleiman. He added that the rebels can take on “the rockets and the tanks, but not Gadhafi’s air force.”

Libya appears to be sliding toward a civil war that could drag out for weeks, or even months, as rebels try to oust Gadhafi after 41 years. Resorting to heavy use of air attacks signaled the regime’s concern that it needed to check the advance of the rebel force toward Sirte — Gadhafi’s hometown and stronghold.

Anti-Gadhafi forces would get a massive morale boost if they captured Sirte, and it would clear a major obstacle on the march toward the gates of Tripoli.

There were no casualties in Monday’s airstrike on Ras Lanouf, which came one day after pro-regime forces pounded opposition fighters with helicopter gunships, artillery and rockets to stop the rebels’ rapid advance toward Tripoli.

Mohamad Samir, an army colonel fighting with the rebels, said his forces are expecting reinforcements from the east.

The uprising against Gadhafi, which began Feb. 15, is already longer and much bloodier than the relatively quick revolts that overthrew the longtime authoritarian leaders of neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

A government spokesman, Abdel-Majid al-Dursi, denied rumors that there had been an assassination attempt against Gadhafi, saying the claims are “baseless rumors.” The speculation started Sunday, when residents in the capital awoke before dawn to the crackle of unusually heavy and sustained gunfire.

Hundreds if not thousands of people have died since Libya’s uprising began, although tight restrictions on media make it near impossible to get an accurate tally. More than 200,000 people have fled the country, most of them foreign workers. The exodus is creating a humanitarian crisis across the border with Tunisia — another North African country in turmoil after an uprising in January that ousted its longtime leader.

The turmoil is being felt more broadly still in the form of rising oil prices. Libya’s oil production has been seriously crippled by the unrest.

The conflict in Libya took a turn late last week when government opponents, backed by mutinous army units and armed with weaponry seized from storehouses, went on the offensive. At the same time, pro-Gadhafi forces have conducted counteroffensives to try to retake the towns and oil ports the rebels have captured since they moved out of the rebel-held east.

An opposition force estimated at 500 to 1,000 fighters has been cutting a path west toward Tripoli. On the way, they secured control of two important oil ports at Brega and Ras Lanouf.

In and around the government-held town of Bin Jawwad, on the road to Sirte, pro-regime forces were running patrols Monday and there were minor reports of skirmishes with rebels on the outskirts. On Sunday, battles there killed eight people and wounded 59, said Ibrahim Said, deputy director of Ajdabiya hospital.

If the rebels continue to advance, even slowly, Gadhafi’s heavy dependence on air power could prompt the West to try to hurriedly enforce a no-fly zone over the country. The U.N. has already imposed sanctions against Libya, and the U.S. has moved military forces closer to its shores to back up its demand that Gadhafi step down.

Enforcing a no-fly zone could take weeks to organize, however, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has noted that it must be preceded by a military operation to take out Libya’s air defenses. British Foreign Minister William Hague said Sunday that a no-fly zone over Libya is still in an early stage of planning and ruled out the use of ground forces.

As fighting across Libya grew more fierce, the international community appeared to be struggling to put military muscle behind its demands for Gadhafi to give up power.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke to Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa on Sunday, and called for an end to hostilities, according to a U.N. statement, which said Kusa agreed to the immediate dispatch of a humanitarian assessment team to Tripoli.

Valerie Amos, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said in a statement that the Benghazi Red Crescent reported that Misrata was under attack by government forces.

“Humanitarian organizations need urgent access now,” she said. “People are injured and dying and need help immediately.”

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler, has discretely begun contacts with Libya’s provisional transitional national council to find out about the rebels’ intentions.

Suleiman, the rebel fighter, said his forces are waiting for reinforcements in Ras Lanouf.

“The orders are to stay here and guard the refinery, because oil is what makes the world go round,” Suleiman said.

Seriouly, Gadhafi needs to step down, but of course he wont until something happens. So ya’ll tell me what you think.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110302/ts_yblog_thelookout/u-s-contemplates-military-options-as-libyan-unrest-continues

Muammar Gaddafi vowed to hang on to power in a speech Wednesday–and regime forces are reported to have made territorial gains, raising the prospect of a civil war in Libya. The United States is under increasing pressure to consider forceful action to avert a bloodbath in the country, from imposing a no-fly zone to setting up humanitarian corridors to protect civilians.

But Defense Secretary Bob Gates made clear Tuesday that, with 150,000 U.S. forces already deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and unrest simmering from Algeria to Yemen, he’s reluctant to commit U.S. military forces elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the United States ordered the deployment this week of two Navy vessels, including the amphibious assault ship the Kearsarge, and 400 U.S. Marines toward Libya from the Persian Gulf.

“We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East,” Gates told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.

“If we move additional assets, what are the consequences of that for Afghanistan, for the Persian Gulf?” Gates said. “And what other allies are prepared to work with us in some of these things?”

Top U.S. military brass also warned Congress Tuesday that imposing a NATO no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from air attack by Gaddafi’s forces would be a far more complex endeavor than many appreciate. It would require first taking out Libya’s air defenses.

“So no illusions here,” CENTCOM Commander Gen. Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It would be a military operation. It wouldn’t be just telling people not to fly airplanes.”

The latest Middle East crisis poses a key dilemma for the Obama administration, pitting humanitarian concerns against broader Middle East strategic considerations. The involvement of U.S. military forces even in an internationally led operation intended to avert atrocities against Libyan civilians could give a sharp anti-American cast to the anti-government unrest in the Middle East. But even as military advisers urge restraint, some in Congress and key humanitarian and pro-democracy advocates are urging the Obama administration to take more forceful measures to avert possible bloodshed.

Middle East experts note the Obama administration has already taken a number of steps in close consultation with international allies. Among these are the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning Libya on Saturday, the opening of an International Criminal Court investigation of Libyan war crimes, freezing $30 billion in Libyan assets in the United States on Sunday–and the symbolic measure voting Libya off the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

“I think a no-fly zone, targeted sanctions, and referral to [the International Criminal Court] are all realistic and appropriate,” said George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch, who has consulted with the White House several times over the past month on both Egypt and Libya. “It’s extremely important to send a signal not just to Gaddafi but to all the other dictators in the region and world who might be tempted to use brutal violence against their people to stay in power that it’s not actually going to keep them in power.”

Experts said at this stage, the movement of U.S. naval power towards Libya was more about messaging than action–persuading Gaddafi loyalists that his downfall is imminent.

“They are sure hoping they don’t have to use them and that this thing will be over, everyone keeps hoping, before they have to take more drastic and costly measures,” said the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Michele Dunne, a former State Department and NSC official who has also been in frequent consultation with the White House.

Former State Department Middle East official Joel Rubin, now with the progressive National Security Network, says the real question for the United States is defining an end goal.

“On the practical level, defining the goal is essential,” Rubin said. “If we have learned anything from our recent experience of military adventures in the Arab world, it is that we have to have a clear and compelling goal that is achievable. And in the case of Libya, there are two goals … the first is humanitarian protection, and the second is removing Gaddafi.” Rubin said that a no-fly zone is the option that analysts are discussing most frequently on the humanitarian front.

But Rubin said even a no-fly zone will not be a panacea. “At this point, Gaddafi is strong because he has guns and money. By deploying a no fly zone … you attempt to reduce his guns, and by utilizing sanctions and asset freezes, you attempt to take away his money. Once those are both gone, yes he is beatable,” Rubin said. “But there’s no single magic bullet. There’s no shock and awe.”

(The United States amphibious assault ship USS Ponce sails through the Suez Canal at Ismailia , Egypt, Wednesday, March 2, 2011.: AP Photo)

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