Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi ordered a cease-fire in the battle against rebels after word emerged that Obama administration officials told senators at a secret briefing of U.S. plans to attack Libyan air and ground forces.
The cease-fire, announced on Friday, also came as France said airstrikes against Libyan forces could come “within hours” and Britain said it was deploying fighter jets.
The classified meeting took place Thursday afternoon in “the bowels of the Capitol building,” according to Foreign Policy magazine’s The Cable website. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mark Kirk spoke to reporters afterward.
Leading the briefing was Bill Burns, undersecretary of State for political affairs, accompanied by Alan Pino, national intelligence officer for the Near East; Gen. John Landry, national intelligence officer for military issues; Nate Tuchrello, national intelligence manager for the Near East; Rear Adm. Michael Rogers, intelligence director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Rear Admiral Kurt Tidd, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs.
The senators were told that American action would include the imposition of both a no-fly zone and a “no-drive zone” to prevent Libyan government forces from moving against rebels, especially those now holding the city of Benghazi.
After the briefing, Sen. Graham, R-S.C., told reporters: “I learned that it’s not too late, that the opposition forces are under siege but they are holding, and that with a timely intervention, a no-fly zone and no-drive zone, we can turn this thing around.”
Graham described plans for the initial attacks: “We ground his aircraft, and some tanks start getting blown up that are headed toward the opposition forces.”
As to when the attacks might begin, Graham said: “We’re talking days, not weeks, and I’m hoping hours, not days.”
Sen. Kirk, R-Ill., told reporters that the military operation probably would be run out of Sicily, where a U.S. Naval Air Station and a NATO base are located.
Several senators at the briefing expressed concerns that American action might be coming too late to prevent a Gadhafi victory over the rebel forces, a Senate staffer who attended the meeting told The Cable.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said on Thursday that any military intervention in Libya should require a formal declaration of war from Congress, a sentiment he expressed in a recent interview with Newsmax.TV.
But Graham told The Cable that the risk of doing nothing and allowing Gadhafi to remain in power after President Barack Obama said “he must go” is far greater than that of getting involved militarily.
On Thursday night, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to impose a no-fly zone.
On Friday, the Agence France Presse news agency reported that French government spokesman Francois Baroin said France would take part in the operation against Gadhafi’s forces and that “the strikes will take place rapidly . . . within hours.”
France is the only country to have recognized the Libyan rebels' provisional government diplomatically.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had told parliament that the U.K. would deploy “Tornadoes and Typhoons as well as air-to-air refueling and surveillance aircraft,” ABC News reported.
Europe's air traffic agency says Libya has shut down its air space to all traffic until further notice, although Libya has denied the move.
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