Rebels forced to retreat to Benghazi


LIBYA:TROOPS LOYAL to Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy have retaken Brega, forcing rebel fighters into a chaotic retreat under a barrage of tank and artillery fire to their stronghold of Benghazi, having earlier in the week advanced to within 90kms of Sirte, Col Gadafy’s home town.

With concern deepening in the coalition about the rebels’ fragile morale and lack of military experience to mount a sustained challenge to the regime, a military stalemate is now a real possibility, partly as both sides are struggling to re-equip their forces. With fighting continuing the issue of rearming has become paramount.

It emerged last night that US president Barack Obama had signed a secret order authorising covert US government support for the rebels.

President Obama signed the order, known as a presidential “finding”, within the last two or three weeks, according to four US government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorise secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and the White House declined immediate comment.

News that the president had given the authorisation surfaced as he and other US and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Col Gadafy’s opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.

People familiar with US intelligence procedures said that presidential covert action “findings” are normally crafted to provide broad authorisation for a range of potential US government actions to support a particular covert objective.

In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorisation – for example the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gadafy forces – the White House also would have to give additional “permission” allowing such activities to proceed.

Former officials say these follow-up authorisations are known in the intelligence world as “‘Mother may I’ findings”.

Meanwhile, British foreign secretary William Hague said it would be possible to supply weapons under certain circumstances. Earlier, UK prime minister David Cameron told the House of Commons in London no decision had been made but he “would not necessarily rule out the protection of civilians in certain circumstances”.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday she believed arming rebels was legal under the UN Security Council resolution, which sanctioned the no-fly zone and air operations.

However, experts in international law have questioned this interpretation, which they say would breach the arms embargo on Libya agreed last month. – (Reuters, Guardian service)