Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Possibility of arming Libyan rebels could be hindered by training

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- With the threat of a better armed, better trained pro-government force inciting more bloodshed in Libya, the United States is considering arming the country's opposition -- though questions prevail about how to do so responsibly.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that arming the opposition is legal, based on a United Nations resolution allowing member states "to take all necessary measures" -- with the exception of foreign occupation -- to protect civilians under the threat of attack in Libya.

The rebels have been demanding an end to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's almost 42-year rule. While they have gained ground in some areas, a hail of artillery and rocket attacks have beaten them back in others.

Training these opposition forces on new weaponry poses a significant challenge, said retired Maj. Gen. James "Spider" Marks, a former commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.

"The notion of the gang that couldn't shoot straight might be lived out," Marks said on CNN's "AC360" Tuesday night. "Absolutely, there must be some degree of training associated with arming this force. However, some weapons systems, clearly they can get a handle on and they can use immediately. It's the more lethal weapon systems that would require training, and I don't think there's time to do that."

In interviews Tuesday with the three major U.S. television networks, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was open to arming the rebel fighters.

"I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in," Obama told NBC in one of the separate interviews.

The U.S. government has spent about $550 million on the Libya effort, the Pentagon said Tuesday, adding that about 60% of that went for munitions. Another $40 million is expected to be spent over the next three weeks.After that, costs are expected to reach about $40 million a month, Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Kathleen Kesler said.

Obama administration officials are expected to deliver a classified briefing to Congress on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, NATO is expected to assume full command of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.

Opposition fighters have credited coalition airstrikes with helping them advance in their rebellion, but say more are needed.

A witness and opposition member in Misrata pleaded Tuesday for coalition forces to strike Gadhafi's forces there to "save Misrata from a massacre." He said Libyan forces pounded the city, causing carnage and destruction "beyond imagination."

In the outskirts of Ajdabiya -- which was recently taken over by opposition forces -- Gadhafi's regime planted several dozen land mines, Human Rights Watch said in a statement Wednesday.

"Given the pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area, the mines were clearly laid while government forces were in Ajdabiya," the group said.

Farther west, scenes of poverty permeated parts of the capital, Tripoli.

Food prices are escalating, a witness in the city said Wednesday. Some residents no longer have access to money, as banks have imposed withdrawal limits of 200 to 300 dinars ($163 to $245) a month.

She said the government was bribing troops and policemen by giving them fuel for free as many gas stations have closed and fuel prices have skyrocketed recently. The line at one gas station stretched more than 150 people long, the witness said.

About a third of Libyans live at or below the national poverty line.

On Tuesday, the central group representing the opposition issued a statement that promised to build a better economy and eradicate poverty.

"We have learned from the struggles of our past during the dark days of dictatorship that there is no alternative to building a free and democratic society and ensuring the supremacy of international humanitarian law and human rights declarations," the statement from the Interim National Council said.

The council vowed to draft a constitution, guarantee key rights to every Libyan citizen, respect freedom of expression and establish "a state that draws strength from our strong religious beliefs in peace, truth, justice, and equality."

For now, however, their battle for such a Libya continues.
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