Gates and Mullen downplay nature of US mission - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Gates and Mullen downplay nature of US mission

Posted: Updated:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 30, 2011, for a closed-door briefing on Libya for members of the House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 30, 2011, for a closed-door briefing on Libya for members of the House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the U.S. debates its future role in the Libyan conflict, Defense leaders slammed the brakes on any broad participation Thursday, saying that some country other than America, should do any future training and equipping of the Libyan opposition groups.

Under withering congressional probing and criticism of an ill-defined mission to aid a rebel force that officials know little about, Defense Secretary Robert Gates sketched out a largely limited role for the U.S. military going forward.

Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen told members of the House Armed Services panel that many other countries have the ability to train and support the rebels.

"My view would be, if there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States," said Gates. "Somebody else should do that."

The U.S. turned over control of the military operation to NATO Thursday, just hours before Gates and Mullen told Congress that future U.S. participation will be limited and will not involve an active role in airstrikes as time goes on.

They were unable; however, to answer key questions from clearly agitated lawmakers about the length of the operation and how it will play out if Qaddafi does not relinquish power.

The U.S. goals are unclear and officials don't know who the rebels are, said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, adding that if it came to a vote he would not support U.S. involvement in the operation.

He and others repeatedly complained that Congress has not been consulted on the Libya operation, and chafed that the legislative branch is not willing to be a backseat driver.

Gates and Mullen insisted that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's military has been degraded by as much as 25 percent, but Mullen noted that regime forces still outnumber the rebels by about 10-to-1.

Meanwhile, they said the opposition groups are fractured and operating independently city by city, and just 1,000 of the rebels are militarily trained.

Their comments came as Qaddafi's forces struck forcefully back at the rebels this week, recapturing lost ground and triggering pleas for help from the battered and failing opposition forces.

Gates said that he believes political and economic pressures will eventually drive Libyan leader Qaddafi from power, but the military operation will help force him to make those choices by degrading his defense capabilities.

Gates and Mullen testifed before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in the wake of new revelations that small teams of CIA operatives are working in Libya.

Gates declined to comment on the CIA activities in Libya.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that the CIA has sent small teams of operatives into Libya and helped rescue a crew member of a U.S. fighter jet that crashed.

The CIA's precise role in Libya is not clear. Intelligence experts said the CIA would have sent officials to make contact with the opposition and assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces in the event President Barack Obama decided to arm them.

Meanwhile, battlefield setbacks are hardening the U.S. view that the poorly equipped opposition probably is incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention, a senior U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press.

The administration says there has been no decision yet about whether to arm the opposition groups, and acknowledged that the U.S. needs to know more about who the rebels are and what role terrorists may be playing there.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. must better explain to the American public that this is not an open-ended conflict and that the U.S. will not become embroiled in a civil war.

Committee chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said he has concerns about U.S. objectives in Libya.

"History has demonstrated that an entrenched enemy like the Libyan regime can be resilient to airpower," McKeon said.

___

Associated Press writers Adam Goldman and Robert Burns contributed to this report.

.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 KFMB-TV. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.