Opposition forces in Libya have made gains in the east and west and Moammar Gadhafi's regime is weakening, Leon Panetta said Thursday, telling senators that the rebel leaders could maintain continuity in the country if the current rulers are ousted.
Members of the Senate Armed Services quizzed Panetta on the NATO military operation in Libya and the possible future of the country if Gadhafi bows to pressure to leave. Panetta has been nominated as the next secretary of defense and was testifying before the panel.
Panetta said the NATO military operation, strong economic sanctions, and the enforcement of the no-fly zone are putting tremendous pressure on Gadhafi, and that the pressure must continue. If it does, he said he believes Gadhafi will ultimately step down.
Republican Sens. Saxby Chamblis of Georgia and Susan Collins of Maine questioned what more must be done to force Gadhafi out, and said the U.S. and its allies must have a plan for Libya once he leaves or chaos will ensue.
Panetta agreed, saying U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton _ who this week has been meeting with international leaders about the Libya conflict _ are working on ways to give rebel forces the capabilities they will need if they have to take control of the country.
He said he is confident there are enough leaders in the opposition to provide continuity if that transition takes place.
Gadhafi has shown no signs of ceding power despite repeated attacks on his compound, government buildings, military radar emplacements and other army installations.
Panetta currently heads the CIA, and has been nominated to succeed Robert Gates who is retiring as defense secretary at the end of the month.