US weighs hit-and-run raids to disable Qaddafi’s air capability
The US is repositioning its naval and air forces around Libya, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan stated Monday, Feb. 28, indicating possible military steps to break the standoff between Muammar Qaddafi's army and rebel forces in the fighting for control of the towns commanding the roads to the capital Tripoli where Qaddafi is barricaded. The reported rebel capture of the key towns of Misrata and Zawiya is technically correct. In fact, they are both surrounded by Libyan troops who control their road links with Tripoli. In Misrata, the army has a valuable edge over opposition forces in its control of the local airfield.
The Pentagon spokesman's indeed remarked that there are "various contingency plans" for the North African country where Muammar Qaddafi's forces and rebels in the east "remain locked in a tense standoff."
Most military observers interpreted his remark as referring to potential US military intervention in Libya to break the stalemate. It was strengthened by the imminent redeployment off the Libyan coast of USS Enterprise from the Red Sea and the amphibious USS Kearsarge, which has a fleet of helicopters and about 1,800 Marines aboard.
This US naval movement appeared to be running ahead of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, earlier Monday said "nothing is off the table" but added "there is no pending naval action planned against Libya."
debkafile's military and intelligence sources report that the presence of the two US warships opposite Libya gives Washington and its allies a flexible option for military intervention should Qaddafi be seen to prevail over the opposition or if the standoff lingers too long. Among the 1,800 marines aboard the Kearsarge are units especially trained for guerrilla or covert raids behind enemy lines. They would have air cover from the Enterprise to protect them from Libyan air and helicopter strikes. They primary mission would be to disable the Libyan air force and put its air fields out of commission. The rebels would not then be stalled by the Libyan ruler's ability to bring in fresh troops and drop them at any point and give them a better chance of carrying the day.
The other "contingency plan" in discussion between Washington and European allies is creating a no-fly zone to protect the people from air assault. The American UN Ambassador Susan Rice said later that Washington is discussing militlary options with its allies but a determination is premature.
On the sanctions front, the US government Monday blocked a record $30 billion in Libyan assets, the largest amount ever frozen, in line with the Obama administration's decision to impose unilateral and multilateral sanctions on Qaddafi.