Meanwhile, much of the Obama administration appears to have tiptoed away from the Libya adventure. Obama has not uttered the word "Libya" in quite a while (although he did mention it in an April 7 written statement marking the anniversary of the massacre in Rwanda). The Pentagon stopped holding press briefings specifically on the Libyan operation once command was transferred to NATO. And now there is confusion about what American forces are actually doing in the skies over Libya.
When NATO took charge, the United States said it was pulling out of attack missions. "We will not be taking an active part in strike activities," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress on March 31. But recently there were reports that American planes have in fact struck ground targets, mainly Libyan air defenses. The Pentagon later confirmed those reports; it turns out that U.S. planes have hit Libyan air defenses three times since April 4. But military officials insist the attacks have not been "strikes." "We do not characterize those as 'strikes,' because (air-defense suppression) is considered a defensive, (not) offensive, mission," a Pentagon spokesman told the American Forces Press Service.
The only administration official saying much about Libya is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently cited "disturbing reports" that Gadhafi's forces continue their attacks on civilians and have cut off water, food and power to the Libyan city of Misurata. The United States "condemns" Gadhafi's attacks, Clinton said, and is "gathering information about Gadhafi's actions that may constitute violations of international humanitarian or human-rights law." In other words, having virtually abandoned military force, the Obama administration might someday take Gadhafi to court.
When the war began last month, Americans were divided on whether U.S. troops should attack Libya. But it's safe to say that the vast majority of Americans wanted U.S. forces, once in action, to succeed. Allowing Gadhafi to withstand American attack and remain defiantly in power while the NATO powers dicker among themselves is not success. No wonder many people were skeptical when commander in chief Obama ordered U.S. forces into a new action for the first time.
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