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CIA Operatives Working in Libya; NATO Assumes Leadership; Immunity Not Offered to Foreign Minister

Libyan anti-Gadhafi fighters wave the flag of the rebellion as they gather some 30 kilometers before the eastern town of Brega on March 31, 2011. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

5:30 p.m. ET | In an address on Libyan state television, Moammar Gadhafi, who did not appear on-camera, said leaders from the coalition of nations imposing air strikes were “affected by power madness” and should resign. In response, Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the opposition, said Gadhafi had in fact been weakened by the show of force against him and the defection of members of his government, saying “an injured wolf is much more dangerous than a healthy wolf.”

In testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, heard criticism from some House Republicans on the cost of the effort and accusations that the White House had not adequately consulted lawmakers. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that he was concerned that “we are not doing everything necessary to achieve our policy goals.”

1 p.m. ET | Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the United States’ military role in Libya Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee, saying that immediate action was needed to halt Gadhafi’s goal to “kill as many (people) as he must to crush the rebellion,” according to Mullen.

Some members of Congress have been vocal in challenging President Obama for not consulting them before committing U.S. resources.

“I sincerely hope that this is not the start of a third elongated conflict,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., referring to military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House has emphasized that there will be no ground troops and that with the handover to NATO, the U.S. is in a primarily supporting role.

Libyan rebels take position during street battles with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi at an area some 30 kms from Brega on March 31, 2011. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images) Libyan rebels take position during street battles with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi at an area some 30 kms from Brega on March 31, 2011. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

9 a.m. ET | NATO officially assumed leadership over air operations in Libya Thursday, a goal the United States had sought since it began enforcing the United Nations-backed no-fly zone. NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen rejected talk of arming the opposition to aid them in overthrowing Libyan leader Moammmar Gadhafi, saying, “We are there to protect the Libyan people, not to arm the people.”

Talk of further action has been heightened by rebel losses in recent days, as government troops reclaimed the oil port of Ras Lanouf and Bin Jawwad and set their sights on Brega and Ajdabiya in their advance eastward. The initial phase of air strikes had allowed opposition forces to retake several key cities only to be pushed back once again by Gadhafi’s heavily equipped and armed troops on the ground. The territorial back-and-forth battles have raised questions about a stalemate and whether the hastily organized rebel militias can withstand the onslaught of government forces, even with coalition support from the air.

Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa, who flew to London on Wednesday in an apparent defection from Gadhafi’s regime, has not been offered immunity from prosecution. But British foreign secretary William Hague said that Koussa’s defection showed that Gadhafi’s government “is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within.” Koussa had been a member of Gadhafi’s inner circle and is being questioned by the British government.

The United States has acknowledged sending CIA operatives to Libya to assess the opposition and to aid in the recovery of the pilot of a downed U.S. jet. While President Obama has said no ground troops will be sent to Libya, he has been more vague on the possibility of arming the rebels. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appeared before members of Congress for a classified briefing in the wake of criticism that the White House did not properly consult legislators before entering into a military action. Clinton said the administration’s decision fell within the War Powers Act. Both reiterated that ground troops will not be sent to aid the rebels.

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