massed for a counter-attack against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in eastern Libya,
encouraged by news of covert U.S. support and the defection of Tripoli’s
“We are beginning to see the
Gaddafi regime crumble,” rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani said in the
eastern town of Benghazi, while stopping short of welcoming fugitive foreign
minister Moussa Koussa, a former spy chief, into the rebel fold.
Analysts agreed the defection of
Koussa, who flew to London, was a blow to Gaddafi, whose forces have gained
ground in recent days.
But the top U.S. military officer
told Congress Gaddafi was far from beaten. “We have actually fairly
seriously degraded his military capabilities,” Admiral Mike Mullen said.
“That does not mean he’s about to break from a military standpoint.”
News that President Barack Obama
had authorised covert operations in Libya raised the prospect of wider support
for the rebels.
The rebels, whose main call is for
weapons — not authorised yet by Washington because of a U.N. arms embargo
which NATO says it is enforcing — said they knew nothing about Western troops
in Libya and that too big a foreign role could be damaging.
Obama’s order is likely to further
alarm countries already concerned that air strikes on infrastructure and ground
troops by the United States, Britain and France
go beyond a U.N. resolution with the stated aim only of protecting civilians.
“I can’t speak to any CIA
activities but I will tell you that the president has been quite clear that in
terms of the United States military there will be no boots on the ground,”
Defence Secretary Robert Gates said.
About 1,000 people are believed to
have been killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of Gaddafi since
the uprising against his 41-year-old rule began on 17 February, the British