“His military, at a certain point, is going to have to face the question of whether they are prepared over time to be destroyed by these air attacks or whether they decide it’s time for him to go,” Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The testimony came amid reports that another member of Gaddafi’s inner circle had defected, boosting the spirits of the beleaguered rebels. A top Libyan Foreign Ministry official, Ali Abdel Salam al-Treki, announced his defection in a statement sent to news agencies by his nephew. British Prime Minister David Cameron and White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday hailed the earlier defection of Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, saying it was a sign that Gaddafi’s power was eroding.
In eastern Libya, rebels fought their way back into the key oil-refinery town of Brega but were soon forced to withdraw under heavy shelling from Gaddafi’s forces, which maintain a huge firepower advantage over the ragtag opposition army.
In his testimony, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blamed the rebels’ losses in recent days on the heavy cloud cover in Libya, which has prevented U.S. and allied jets from attacking Gaddafi’s ground forces.
Mullen said the sustained bombing campaign had destroyed as much as 25 percent of Gaddafi’s military arsenal and pledged that coalition forces would continue to hammer away at his ground forces.
Some of the United States’ partners have acknowledged that the initial descriptions of the intervention in Libya no longer apply. “What is happening in Libya is not a no-fly zone,” a senior European diplomat told reporters, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity. “The no-fly zone was a diplomatic thing, to get the Arabs on board. What we have in Libya is more than that.”
Although Gates said that unseating Gaddafi was not the stated goal of the military mission, he made clear that the United States and its allies intended to use military force to aid the Libyan opposition and compel Gaddafi and his inner circle to surrender.
“I mean we’re blowing up [Gaddafi’s] ammunition supplies,” Gates said in separate testimony before the House. “He can’t resupply from abroad . . . over time, that should work to the advantage of those in the opposition.”
The defense secretary also made clear his preference that other nations take the lead in training and arming the Libyan rebels. “If there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States,” he said. French officials have been among the most aggressive in pressing for military aid to the rebels.