The U.S. and its allies should provide more air support and financial aid to Libyan rebels, Senator John McCain said in Benghazi after President Barack Obama sent armed Predator on missions over the nation.
Those seeking to oust Muammar Qaddafi’s regime are “patriots who want to liberate their nation, they are not al- Qaeda,” McCain told a press conference today in the rebel capital city.
The Arizona Republican said North Atlantic Treaty Organization states need to “urgently” increase close air support for rebel ground operations. He also said the rebels’ Transitional National Council should receive some of Qaddafi’s frozen assets to fund its operations and that the Council should be recognized as Libya’s government.
McCain made his comments after France, Italy and the U.K. sent military advisers to help rebels with communications and training and the U.S. authorized drones armed with Hellfire missiles in a bid to break the stalemated campaign against Qaddafi’s 42-year rule without sending troops into combat.
“I fear a stalemate could give rise to radical Islamic forces,” McCain told the press conference.
“We need to step up the pressure on every front” short of sending ground troops, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday on BBC Scotland radio. Troops are prohibited under the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the no- fly zone.
The drones, unmanned aircraft, previously have been used for reconnaissance. They provide better visibility of targets. That’s important when Qaddafi’s forces are fighting in and around cities, said Marine General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The remotely piloted aircraft were unable to complete missions on their first outing yesterday due to bad weather, Cartwright said yesterday. The Predator is made by closely held General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego.
The European military advisers, who will total fewer than 50, will be the first official Western military forces in Libya since the Western intervention began a month ago. The NATO-led, UN-sanctioned mission is to police a no-fly zone, protect civilians and enforce an arms embargo on the Qaddafi regime.
The uprising, which began in mid-February, has ground to a military stalemate near the central oil-port city of Brega.
Fighting has halted most oil exports from Libya, which has Africa’s biggest oil reserves, as regional turmoil has sent oil prices up more than 30 percent from a year ago. Crude oil for June delivery rose 84 cents to settle at $112.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Markets were closed for the Good Friday holiday today.
Residents of the rebel-held western city of Misrata, besieged for more than six weeks, suffer daily shelling by Qaddafi’s forces.
Pilots in North Atlantic Treaty Organization warplanes have had difficulty identifying Qaddafi’s forces once they move into cities and have had to exercise extra caution to avoid civilian casualties. The Predator gives NATO the ability to get closer to possible targets, review the scene and strike with precision.
Earlier this week, the U.S. said it would provide $25 million in non-lethal aid, such as radios and body armor, to Libya’s rebels.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday called for “some degree of patience” about the outcome of the conflict. She referred to the fact that the U.S. and its NATO allies bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999, during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton, to stop its attacks on Kosovo. The air campaign over Libya began just over a month ago.
“It is always a temptation in any conflict to expect there to be a resolution quickly,” she told reporters after meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal in Washington.
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