Analysis: Libya mission is clouded by confusion

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 3:06 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said he was setting clear and unmistakable terms for the U.S. role in Libya: It would be limited, lasting days, not weeks, and its purpose was to protect Libyan citizens.

But that's not the way it's turned out. Less than a week later, the mission has been clouded by confusion and questions about who's in charge and who's doing what - all while the killing of civilians is going on.

The Pentagon claims success in establishing an effective no-fly zone over much of Libya that has grounded Col. Moammar Gadhafi's aging air force. But Gadhafi's tanks and troops are still targeting civilians on the ground.

The administration seeks to minimize current disputes over the reins of leadership, suggesting everything will fall in place quickly, ideally by this weekend.

There are some doubters.

"It could still all come around very quickly in our favor. But if that's to happen, we will have to apply much more intensive military power in an effort to make this succeed," said Aaron David Miller, a former top State Department Mideast negotiator in Republican and Democratic administrations.

"But it doesn't appear to me, given the constraints acting upon us and our own reservations, that we're prepared to do that," said Miller, now with the Woodrow Wilson Center, a foreign-policy think tank. "Right now, it appears to be settling into a stalemate which isn't terribly hurting on the Gadhafi side."

Obama also faces a skeptical audience on Capitol Hill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote to the president saying he and others "are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America's role is in achieving that mission."

Boehner said Obama so far had made a "limited, sometimes contradictory case" for the action.

There also seems to be a disconnect between Obama and his military commanders. He keeps emphasizing that the U.S. is just one of many players in the coalition. But in their briefings, the generals and admirals sound like the Pentagon is running the show, at least for now.

To date, the air attacks on Libyan targets have been predominantly American. In a 24-hour period as of late Wednesday, 175 sorties were flown, 113 by the United States, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerald P. Hueber told reporters from the U.S. command ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

His portrayal suggested a long slog might lie ahead.

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