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The Daily Need

Libya updates: Key Gadhafi aide defects; rebels dismiss concerns of extremism

Update | March 31 One of Moammar Gadhafi’s closest aides, described as the Libyan autocrat’s “political strong man,” has defected to Britain, reportedly on his own volition and without a deal for immunity, officials said Thursday.

Moussa Koussa, Libya’s foreign minister and the West’s key partner in its dealings with Libya over the years, was said to be cooperating with British officials. The defection dealt a serious blow to the faltering Gadhafi regime and suggested that more defections may be imminent. Another top Libyan official, Ali Abdussalam el-Treki, fled to Egypt on Thursday.

Ali El Rishi, another ex-minister in the Libyan government who defected during the uprising, called Koussa “one of the most trusted aides of Mr. Gadhafi” in an interview with France 24:

This is an indication that the end of his brutal rule is about to be over. No one knows the regime better than Mr. Koussa, and he saw the handwriting on the wall, as it was said. And this is a sure sign that the days of the regime [are] numbered. We expected Mr. Koussa to side with them until the end, and now that he quit, meaning that it is the end, it is a blow to this terrorist organization that disguises itself as a government.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Koussa’s defection “tells a compelling story of the desperation and the fear right at the heart of the crumbling and rotten Gadhafi regime.” He also promised that there was “no deal” for Koussa’s immunity:

Koussa is only the latest senior Libyan official to defect from the regime during the uprising. Libyan diplomats across the world, including the regime’s envoys to the United Nations in New York, have also forsaken Gadhafi and called for his ouster. And as we reported Thursday, several of the leaders of the opposition in Libya are also former members of Gadhafi’s governmet.

Those rebel leaders also responded Thursday to concerns among U.S. and international officials that there may be extremist elements among the opposition ranks. The Libyan National Council, the interim government formed by the rebels, issued a statement Thursday pledging to combat terrorism and rejecting any affiliation with “extremist” groups, such as al-Qaeda:

The Transitional National Council affirms the Islamic identity of the Libyan People, its commitment to the moderate Islamic values, its full rejection to the extremist ideas and its commitment to combating them in all circumstances, and refuses the allegations aiming to associate al-Qaeda with the revolutionists in Libya.

It emphasizes that the danger of terrorism threatens all nations and it should not be associated with any religion, culture or ethnicity; and it affirms its strong condemnation and its commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.

Earlier this week, Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander, had suggested in testimony before Congress that there may be “flickers” of al-Qaeda or Hezbollah affiliates among the ranks of the Libyan rebels:

Update | March 28 In his first national address since the war in Libya began, President Obama issued a forceful defense of the American-led military campaign against Moammar Gadhafi, saying the coalition air strikes and no-fly zone had stopped “a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

Had the United States not acted when it did, Obama said, Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown would have cost the lives of countless civilians. “It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen,” Obama said, adding later: “I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

The president cautioned, however, that the U.S. would soon be winding down its engagement in the military campaign, as NATO takes command of the allied air strikes and no-fly zone. Obama also responded to critics who have suggested that the military action in Libya could potentially result in a stalemate without an escalation of hostilities. “Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” Obama said, comparing the situation to Iraq. “Regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

Obama’s warning against escalation came even as Pentagon leaders suggested the nascent rebel gains in Libya would be short-lived without continued military support from the international community. In a Pentagon briefing on Monday, Vice Admiral William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, said the rebels had recaptured the key port town of Ajdabiya in the east and were preparing to push westward, fighting for control of Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte.

Gortney cautioned, though, that “the regime is preparing to dig in at Sirte,” and that a lengthy battle could take shape there. There were also intense clashes in the northwest city of Misrata, which has been held by rebels since early in the uprising. Eyewitnesses there have described an increasingly desperate situation, in which Gadhafi’s forces have continued to bombard the city with tanks and rocket launchers and cut off the supply of electricity and water to the civilian population.

Without continued missile strikes and air support from international forces, Gortney warned, the rebels’ recent gains in Libya could be “tenuous” at best.

“Clearly the opposition is not well organized, and it is not a very robust organization,” Gortney said. “Clearly, they’re achieving a benefit from the actions that we’re taking.”

Gortney confirmed that coalition forces had been bombarding Gadhafi’s fighters in and around Sirte, and that military leaders were beginning to observe “a pretty significant shift” in momentum on the ground as a result of the air campaign. He cautioned, though, that NATO and U.S. forces were still not communicating with the opposition, and were not coordinating their air strikes to support rebel advances into territory controlled by Gadhafi.

“We’re not talking with the opposition,” Gortney said. “We would like a much better understanding of the opposition. We don’t have it.”

He added: “We’re trying to fill in those gaps.”

Update | March 27 Libyan rebels said Sunday that they had retaken several strategic cities along Libya’s coastline and were continuing to push westward, as NATO announced that it had formally agreed to take command of the allied bombing campaign against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the organization had agreed to take responsibility for “the whole military operation in Libya,” including the allied air strikes on Gadhafi’s ground forces. NATO had already agreed earlier this week to take control of the coalition’s naval arms embargo and the no-fly zone.

“Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gaddafi regime,” Rasmussen said in a statement Sunday. “NATO will implement all aspects of the U.N. Resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.”

The rebels’ gains over the weekend were aided by the allied bombing campaign, which seemed to be achieving its first real successes in the week since the strikes began. The goal of the air strikes, according to military commanders, is to cut off lines of communication between Gadhafi’s forces near major cities and their commanders. That seemed to be working, as Gadhafi’s forces retreated from Ajdabiya and other key port cities.

The Libyan Youth Movement in Benghazi, the seat of opposition power, said Sunday that the rebels had taken control of Brega, a key port city in eastern Libya, and Ras Lanuf, a strategic oil town and home to a major oil refinery. They also reported that they had recaptured the town of Bin Jawad, just west of Ras Lanuf, in a westward push that will almost certainly ignite fierce clashes with Gadhafi’s forces. In their last westward campaign, before the allied air strikes began, the rebels were routed at Bin Jawad by the regime’s forces and pushed back toward the east.

Despite the successes, there were still reports of intense fighting across Libya, particularly in Misrata, a major rebel-held city in northwest Libya that has been besieged by attacks from Gadhafi’s forces. An eyewitness told the @feb17voices Twitter feed Saturday that heavy artillery fire could be heard within 15 miles of the city center, and that a mortar operated by Gadhafi’s forces had been bombarding the city. Allied air strikes, meanwhile, continued throughout the night in an effort to repel loyalist fighters.

On Sunday, Libyan state television reported that the regime had retaken Misrata. “Counter-terrorism units arrest the terrorist gangs which terrorized civilians in Misrata,” state TV reported, according to Libyan opposition bloggers. “The city is now secure and life is going back to normal.” Those reports seem to contradict the accounts of eyewitnesses and rebel leaders, and are likely part of the regime’s propaganda campaign.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Obama said the allied air strikes had made “important progress.”

“We’re succeeding in our mission,” Obama said. “We’ve taken out Libya’s air defenses. Gadhafi’s forces are no longer advancing across Libya. In places like Benghazi, a city of some 700,000 that Gadhafi threatened to show no mercy, his forces have been pushed back. So make no mistake: because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided, and the lives of countless civilians — innocent men, women and children — have been saved.”

Update | March 25 In a sharp turnaround, NATO has agreed to take responsibility not only for the United Nations-authorized no-fly zone over Libya but also for the allied air strikes bombarding Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, officials said Friday.

The agreement came after a four-way call between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her counterparts in Turkey, Britain and France. Clinton also spoke with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, who told her that the UAE would join the NATO mission and send warplanes to patrol the no-fly zone. “This was a hard diplomatic battle,” a senior administration official said in a background briefing Thursday.

Officials in Turkey were angry that they had not been consulted before the bombing campaign began. France, meanwhile, had called repeatedly for more aggressive tactics to dislodge the Gadhafi regime. The French government even went so far as to formally recognize the opposition rebels, a step none of the other coalition members have taken.

“It is not enough to proclaim, as did almost all the major democracies that ‘Gadhafi must go,'” Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, wrote on his blog last week. “We must give ourselves the means to effectively assist those who took up arms against his dictatorship.”

Turkey, meanwhile, insisted that NATO take responsibility for the entire campaign, rather than divvying up the mission piecemeal and allowing allied forces to continue bombing Gadhafi’s ground forces while NATO enforced the no-fly zone.

In a show of solidarity with Arab and European allies, the State Department announced after the agreement was reached that Clinton would fly to London next week for a conference on the military campaign in Libya. The summit was seen in part as a re-do of a similar meeting in Paris last week that did not include Turkey, upsetting Turkish officials.

Formal military planning for the transfer of authority will take place over the next several days, Pentagon officials said. “The details are still ongoing of what the command structure will be and what it will look like,” Vice Admiral William Gortney, director of the military’s Joint Staff, said Thursday.

The agreement to hand over full command not only of the no-fly zone but of the broader bombing campaign to NATO seemed to indicate that there was little stomach on the part of key coalition partners for the military escalation that would be required to remove Gadhafi from power. With NATO now in charge of missile strikes and the U.S. pulling back, it’s unlikely that allied forces will become even more aggressive in their use of air power to stop Gadhafi’s ground forces.

As a senior administration put it in the briefing Thursday, all military decisions regarding the bombing campaign in Libya will be made by NATO officials, rather than by France or the U.S., which have called for the removal of the Gadhafi regime. “When it comes to deciding on what will or will not happen within a NATO operation, that gets done in Brussels,” the senior administration official said.

The possibility that NATO might shy away from a more aggressive bombing campaign has stirred fears of an impasse. If Gadhafi’s forces withdraw from rebel-held cities, the allies will have achieved their stated mission of protecting civilians. But without more military power, the rebels will likely be unable to dislodge Gadhafi. That could produce an outcome in which Gadhafi retains control of some parts of the country while the rebels take charge in others.

“There was not a real consensus on the larger military objectives, the way the use of military force was to make forward progress toward larger political goals. And there was certainly no exit strategy,” Nathan Hughes, a military analyst at global intelligence company Stratfor, said in an interview with Need to Know. “There’s very real room here for long-term stalemate.”

Update | March 24 After several days of political wrangling, NATO has agreed to take command of the allied mission in Libya, as rebels begin to report new signs of progress in their fight against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

Vice Admiral William Gortney, director of the military’s Joint Staff, said in a Pentagon briefing Thursday that American officials were already in “close consultation” with allied military commanders about how best to transfer authority for the mission in Libya to NATO leaders. “We are going to give up the command positions,” Gortney said.

Part of that process, he added, would involve figuring out how best to hand over authority for the allied mission while causing minimal disruption to military operations.

“The details are still ongoing of what the command structure will be and what it will look like,” Gortney said. “To work that same command and control architecture, with different nations and in different locations, that also still has the connectivity and IT support, the doctrine worked out, that is really, really hard work.”

Gortney said the U.S. would continue to support coalition operations by providing “those capabilities that we have that are unique,” including intelligence-gathering and attacks on ground forces outside rebel-held cities. Coalition forces were also continuing to abide by very narrow rules of engagement, he said. Allied strikes have been restricted to Gadhafi forces outside major cities such as Misrata and Ajdabiya, even though many loyalist fighters have infiltrated those population centers.

Coalition forces have been targeting the loyalists’ supply lines and logistics operations, in an effort to cut off communication between fighters inside rebel-held cities and their commanders in the field. “They’re not going to be able to sustain their efforts inside the city” once their lines of communication have been severed, Gortney said.

There were some indications that the strategy was beginning to work. Gortney said in his briefing that Gadhafi’s forces had been pushed back from the rebel stronghold of Ajdabiya in the east, and Libyan bloggers said the fighting in Misrata, a rebel-held city in the west and the scene of intense clashes, had eased in the last day. An eyewitness there told the @feb17voices Twitter feed that Gadhafi’s forces within the city “remain largely pinned down.”

Opposition bloggers also posted video to YouTube Thursday of anti-Gadhafi protesters in Zintan, a city that has been besieged by fierce attacks from loyalist forces. The protesters maintain their ground even as rockets and artillery fire crackle in the background. A second video appeared to show the damage there from days of intense fighting.

Coalition forces have unleashed fierce attacks on Gadhafi’s ground forces, in an effort to cut off their lines of communication and dislodge loyalist fighters from the outskirts of rebel-held cities. Gadhafis’ warplanes have also been neutralized, Gortney said: “They are not effective at all.”

Update | March 23 Allied forces have expanded their bombing campaign in Libya in a bid to halt Moammar Gadhafi’s forces from assaulting key rebel-held cities, officials and eyewitnesses said Wednesday. The attacks seemed to ease the pressure on some civilian populations, but military officials said they had no indication that the Gadhafi regime would discontinue its attacks.

Opposition bloggers and eyewitnesses described intense ground fighting near Misrata, a large rebel-held city in northwest Libya, and Ajdabiya, in eastern Libya. The attacks included artillery fire and shelling from rocket launchers. Video posted to YouTube by Libyan bloggers appeared to show the Gadhafi regime’s tanks bombarding opposition forces in eastern Libya. There was also footage of the damage to buildings and infrastructure in Misrata, and horrifying images of civilian casualties.

Coalition warplanes bombed Gadhafi’s forces around Misrata, and eyewitnesses called the attacks “very effective.” Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber said in a Pentagon briefing Wednesday that the attacks were designed to “cut off their lines of communication and cut off their command and control.”

Despite some signs of success, however, there were no indications that Gadhafi’s forces were pulling back from any of the rebel-held cities currently under attack, including Misrata and Ajdabiya. “They are making incursions into the city and targeting the population civilians in those cities,” Hueber said. “The opposition in both of those cities is under attack.”

Hueber’s comments reflect a shift in the focus of the coalition bombing campaign, from enforcing the no-fly zone to neutralizing Gadhafi’s ground forces. Hueber said the allies had effectively grounded the regime’s air force, and that there had been no recorded flight activity by Libyan pilots in the last 24 hours. Now, he said, the emphasis was on stopping Gadhafi’s ground troops from assaulting rebel-held cities.

“We are putting pressure on Gadhafi’s ground forces that are attacking civilian populations and cities,” Hueber said. “It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment, and our primary focus is to interdict those forces before they enter the city.”

As a result, the allied mission has in some ways grown more complex. As military officials have acknowledged, differentiating between the civilian population and armed rebels can be problematic. And once Gadhafi’s forces successfully enter cities such as Ajdabiya and Zawiya, targeting them without causing civilian casualties becomes considerably more difficult as well.

Gadhafi, for his part, seems determined to test the allies’ resolve. In a speech on Libyan state television Tuesday, he told supporters, “In the short term, we will beat them. In the long term, we will beat them.”

Update | March 22 Two American pilots whose F-15 fighter jet crashed in Libya late last night are now safe and in the care of the United States, the commander of military operations in Libya said Tuesday. One of the pilots was rescued by coalition forces, while the other was recovered by Libyan civilians and turned over to the U.S. military.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn — the name of the coalition mission in Libya — said in a Pentagon briefing that the aircraft “encountered an equipment malfunction,” and that the two pilots ejected before the fighter jet crashed. The crew member who was recovered by Libyan civilians, he said, “was treated with dignity and respect,” and the civilians “ensured that he received medical care.”

Locklear also said that the coalition had largely succeeded in its goal of imposing a no-fly zone, and was now actively looking to hand over command of operations in Libya to coalition partners. Locklear said the no-fly zone had rendered Moammar Gadhafi’s “long-range air defenses and air craft ineffective” and that “we continue to expand the effectiveness of our coalition no-fly zone and our other coalition abilities.”

Nonetheless, attacks by Gadhafi’s forces on the rebels and Libyan civilians continued. Locklear confirmed that Gadhafi’s forces were continuing their assault on Misrata, a rebel-held city in northwest Libya, and that the coalition was considering “all options” to halt the regime’s attacks on civilians there.

The developments came amid growing questions about the allied mission and its goals. It was unclear whether NATO would be willing or able to take over command of operations in Libya, and countries that opposed the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the no-fly zone — China, India and Russia, among others — stepped up their criticism of the coalition bombing campaign.

On Monday, the head of the military’s Africa Command also said that he could not rule out a situation in which Gadhafi stays in power, despite President Obama’s stated demand that “Gadhafi must go.”

General Carter Ham said in a satellite briefing from his headquarters in Germany that the allied coalition was not coordinating its attacks with rebel fighters trying to oust Gadhafi, and flatly ruled out the use of American ground troops in Libya.

“We do not have a mission to support the opposition,” Ham said. He acknowledged, though, that deciding which opposition members were civilians and which were armed rebels was “problematic,” and that coalition forces had been ordered to be “judicious in their application of force” when the distinction was unclear.

“Many in the opposition truly are civilians,” Ham said. “There are also those in the opposition that have armed vehicles, and that have heavy weapons. To me, that says that those entities and those parts of the opposition, I would argue, are no longer covered under that ‘protect civilians’ clause. So it’s not a clear distinction.”

Ham reiterated, though, that the allied mission did not include ousting Gadhafi or his regime.

“I could see accomplishing the military mission which has been assigned to me and the current leader would remain the current leader,” Ham said. “Is that ideal? I don’t think anyone would say that that is ideal, but I could envision that.”

Ham also reiterated what allied military officials have said repeatedly in recent days: that they are not targeting Gadhafi, nor are they seeking information about his whereabouts. Ham said a recent missile attack on Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli was authorized because the complex included air defense systems.

“That particular target was decided upon because degrading that particular facility would degrade the regime’s ability to control its military forces in attacking civilians,” Ham said.

Ham also said it was unclear how long the U.S. would lead the bombing campaign. U.S. officials will hand over organizational responsibilities, he said, once they decide which organization — NATO or some other international coalition — will assume command. “We are ready to begin that process immediately, as soon as that follow-on [headquarters] is identified,” he said.

Ham’s remarks came as clashes on the ground between rebel forces and the Gadhafi regime intensified. Loyalist forces appeared to be digging in, despite their lack of air support, and there were chaotic and conflicting reports from both sides about the status of strategic cities in the east and west.

An eyewitness told the @feb17voices Twitter feed in a phone call Sunday that the rebel-held town of Zintan had been “bombarded with rockets” from Gadhafi’s tanks and anti-aircraft machine guns, and that rebel forces there were “waiting” for the allied air strikes to help repel loyalist forces. “There was a major offensive by Gadhafi brigades,” he said, adding that more than 200 tanks had advanced toward the city.

That witness said the pro-democracy forces had prevailed. But other opposition bloggers wrote Monday that Zintan was still in “grave danger” and that “the city is facing a huge attack from [Gadhafi] forces this evening.”

In Benghazi, meanwhile, there were reports of Gadhafi “sleeper cells” hiding out and executing occasional attacks on rebel forces. The Libyan Youth Movement wrote that that the Gadhafi holdouts were “causing isolated problems in the city, but are slowly being caught one after the other.”

Overall, though, allied officials claimed that the air strikes and no-fly zone had prevented a brutal assault by Gadhafi’s forces on Benghazi, the seat of opposition power. British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons Monday that coalition air strikes had just narrowly averted “what could have been a bloody massacre in Benghazi. In my view, they did so just in the nick of time.”

Update | March 20 Military officials said Sunday that allied attacks on Libyan air defense systems, now in their second day, had so far been “successful,” and that a no-fly zone was now effectively in place over the country. Besieged rebels, meanwhile, began to regroup, fortifying their base in Benghazi and advancing toward cities that had been re-captured by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

In a Pentagon briefing Sunday, Vice Admiral William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, said the air force had intensified its attacks on Libyan air defense facilities with the use of B-2 bombers and fighter jets, and had launched a total of 124 Tomahawk missiles from destroyers off the Libyan coast.

The Navy also released new footage of Harrier jets and Sea Hawk helicopters carrying out missions over Libyan air space. And in radio communications picked up by scanners and posted online, U.S. forces could be heard warning Libyan pilots not to leave port, or “you will be attacked and destroyed immediately.”

“We judge these strikes to have been very effective in degrading the regime’s air defense capability,” Gortney said, adding that the Gadhafi regime had not launched any aircraft since the start of the allied campaign and that the use of Libyan air surveillance had been significantly curtailed.

Gortney said U.S. forces had taken the lead in disabling the Gadhafi regime’s air defense systems in order to establish the no-fly zone, but that the plan was to hand over command of the mission to coalition forces. “Our intent is to be a part of the coalition throughout, and transfer the command to a coalition command,” Gortney said.

The response by Arab officials, meanwhile, was mixed. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were reportedly in the process of sending warplanes to join the U.S., French, British, Canadian and Italian forces carrying out the no-fly zone, and Turkey had expressed support for the mission as well. But in a diplomatic setback, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, expressed reservations about the bombing campaign.

“What happened in Libya is different from the intended aim of imposing the no-fly zone,” Moussa said in a statement, according to an Egyptian newspaper. “We want to protect civilians, not the bombing of more civilians.”

The Arab League had expressly asked the United Nations Security Council to authorize a no-fly zone over Libya, so Moussa’s remarks were seen as a stark turnaround. Military officials say the air strikes are necessary to ground Gadhafi’s warplanes and enforce the no-fly zone.

Rebels and opposition forces in Libya were much more supportive of the attacks, and used the allied barrage as a chance to regroup and advance toward cities that the Gadhafi regime had previously recaptured. Opposition bloggers reported renewed fighting in the northwest city of Misrata, despite Gadhafi’s claim to have ordered yet another ceasefire. They also claimed loyalist forces had defected and joined the opposition in the rebel-held city of Zintan.

There, an opposition fighter said in a phone call posted on the @feb17voices Twitter feed that rebel forces were waiting for the allied coalition to widen its bombing campaign to include Zintan. “We’re waiting for them to do something,” he said.

In this photo released by the U.S. Navy Saturday, the USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile aimed at Libyan air defense forces. (Roderick Eubanks/U.S. Navy)

Update | March 19 The United States and European allies launched a broad campaign of missile strikes against Libyan military targets Saturday in an effort to enforce a no-fly zone and stop Moammar Gadhafi’s regime from attacking rebels.

U.S. and British ships and submarines unleashed more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles, bombarding more than 20 Libyan air defense facilities on the country’s northern coast, according to Vice Admiral William Gortney, director of the Joint Staff.

Gortney stressed in a Pentagon briefing Saturday that the missile strikes were carefully coordinated with U.S. allies — specifically, Britain and France — and were designed to enforce a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the no-fly zone.

“This is just the first phase of what will likely by a multi-phased military operation designed to enforce the United Nations resolution and deny the Libyan regime the ability to use force against its own people,” Gortney said. “This is an international military effort urged by the Libyan people themselves and by other Arab nations.”

Gortney added that the goal of the initial U.S. campaign — called Operation Odyssey Dawn — was to weaken the Libyan air defense systems, so that Britain, France and other allies could spearhead the enforcement of the no-fly zone. “Our mission right now is to shape the battle space in such a way that our partners may take the lead,” Gortney said.

In remarks during a trip to Brasil, President Obama said the Gadhafi regime had continued its assault on civilians and opposition forces, despite claiming to impose a ceasefire after the U.N. resolution.

“His attacks on his own people have continued. His forces have been on the move. And the danger faced by the people of Libya has grown,” Obama said. “We must be clear: Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced. That is the cause of this coalition.”

Gadhafi responded to the strikes defiantly, calling the U.S. and European forces “colonizers” and the Mediterranean a “ground for war” in a short phone interview on Libyan state television, according to opposition bloggers.

“This attack will launch a second crusade, the Libyan people will counter it, we ask the Africans, South Americans to stand by us,” Gadhafi said. ”We must now open the weapons depots and arm all Libyans.”

Original Post | March 18 President Obama warned Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi Friday that “the international community will impose consequences,” including military action, if Gadhafi’s regime does not comply with the terms of a United Nations Security Council resolution and immediately halt attacks on civilians and opposition forces.

“Moammar Gadhafi has a choice,” Obama said in a statement to reporters at the White House. “The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately.”

Obama also demanded that Gadhafi’s forces halt their advance toward Benghazi, the seat of opposition power, and withdraw from re-conquered cities such as Misurata, Zawiya and Ajdabiya. Those cities had been liberated by opposition forces but recaptured by the Gadhafi regime in a relentless campaign to reassert its control over the country.

“These terms are not subject to negotiation,” Obama said.

Obama cautioned, though, that the U.S. would not act alone if military intervention became necessary, and flatly ruled out the use of ground forces in any conflict with Libya.

“I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya,” Obama said. “And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal — specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.”

Earlier, the Libyan government had said it would cease all attacks against opposition forces, hours after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of “all necessary measures” short of a ground invasion to protect Libyan civilians, including air strikes and a no-fly zone.

The announcement, by Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, represented a sharp turnaround from Thursday, when Moammar Gadhafi, preparing a final assault on the last remaining opposition stronghold in Benghazi, warned in an address that there “won’t be any mercy” for anti-government rebels. His regime also warned in a statement that any foreign military intervention would result in counterattacks on civilian and military facilities in the Mediterranean Sea.

Civilians in Benghazi celebrated immediately after the U.N. vote Thursday. But rebels and opposition bloggers remained skeptical about the ceasefire, and have reported unconfirmed incidents of continued hostilities in rebel-held cities in the east and west. “Gadhafi ceasefire nonexistent,” the Libyan Youth Movement wrote Friday. “We never trusted him and never will.”

France and the United Kingdom had already said they were preparing to deploy war planes to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya before the regime’s announcement. Canada also said it would send fighter jets, and NATO held an emergency meeting. The U.S. role was unclear.

“The establishment of a ban of all flights in the airspace of [Libya] constitutes an important element for the protection of civilians as well as the safety of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and a decisive step for the cessation of hostilities in Libya,” the U.N. resolution says. However, the measure explicitly excludes the use of an “occupation force” in Libya.

The resolution passed with 10 votes and five abstentions. China and Russia, permanent members who could have vetoed the measure, abstained after intensive negotiations throughout the day. India, which also abstained, criticized the resolution for authorizing “far-reaching measures” without deciding first how a no-fly zone would work. Brazil warned that “the use of force” would not resolve the conflict.

In addition to imposing a no-fly zone and authorizing air strikes, the resolution also strengthens a U.N. arms embargo on Libya and extends its asset freeze to an important national oil company and the central bank.

The resolution was sponsored by the United Kingdom, France, Lebanon and the United States. The French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said in a statement before the vote that the window for international action was rapidly narrowing.

“Every day, every hour, we see the closing of the clamp on the civilian population and the people of Benghazi,” Juppe said, referring to the opposition’s last remaining stronghold.

“In Libya, alas, for a number of weeks the people’s will has been shoved down to its feet by Colonel Gadhafi, who has been attacking his own people,” Juppe said. “We cannot let these warmongers do this.”

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the resolution was a sign of the international community’s solidarity with the Libyan people.

“This council’s purpose is clear: to protect innocent civilians,” Rice said. “The future of Libya should be decided by the people of Libya people. The United States stands by the Libyan people in support of their universal rights.”

Libyan protesters and supporters of the opposition had for weeks called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, as the Gadhafi regime’s considerable air power overran the loosely organized rebel forces on the ground. Live broadcasts by Al Jazeera and other networks showed jubilation in the streets of Benghazi immediately after the vote.

Earlier this week, Suzi Elarabi, the mother of an American citizen who died fighting Gadhafi’s regime in Libya, told Need to Know that she hoped the international community would do whatever it takes stop the regime’s relentless assaults on civilians.

“I’m hoping that all the world will try to do something to help Libyan people to get their freedom,” Elarabi, an American citizen, said in an interview. “We don’t want all the people that died to just die for nothing. We want what the Libyan people started, we want them to end it. I want them to take Gadhafi out.”

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    Egypt in transition
    Although it is unclear what authority Mohammed Morsi will have, his win is considered a huge victory for the Muslim Brotherhood. Watch our report from earlier this year, when correspondent Mona Iskander talked to regular Egyptians about their fears, hopes and dreams for their country's future.
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    Clinton visits Burma
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a historic visit to Burma this week, recognizing the country's incremental reforms and setting the stage for an end to the country's long period of isolation.
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    Can democracy thrive in Egypt?
    Egyptians on Monday began the lengthy process of choosing their first civilian government since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. But it remained unclear whether the military would give up power.