Twelve days into the US bombing of Libya, Congress grilled Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen on the US mission—and endgame.
Gates first said regime change was not the objective in Libya:“I think a policy success would be the removal of the Gaddafi regime.”
He later qualified his response, saying that while regime change was a policy objective, it was not part of the military mission.
“The military mission is a limited one and does not include regime change. Personally I felt strongly about that, we’ve tried regime change before, sometimes its worked sometimes it’s taken 10 years,” Gates said.
He also stated that the US does not know who the Libyan rebels are.
“Other than a relative handful of leaders, we don’t have much visibility into those who have risen against Gaddafi,” Gates remarked. “Each element has its own agenda. We really have very little insight into the different pieces of this opposition.”
“It’s pretty much a pickup ballgame at this point,” he testified.
Gates and Mullen deferred to the White House as to whether the US would arm the rebels.
Gates also told Congress he did not know how long the US will be engaged in Libya.
“The bottom line is that no one can predict for you how long it will take for that to happen,” he said.
Many US representatives sharply criticized the US role in Libya.
“These are combat operations. They were intended to be combat operations from the beginning. I don’t know why this administration has not been honest with American people that this is about regime change,” said US Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO).
Gates testified that US intervention has cost $550 million in the first 10 days alone and will cost an estimated $40 million a month going forward.
But Congress questioned who would foot the bill.
“It’s purely financial right now, to look around to see if we can even get through this year, the rest of 2011,” Mullen said.
There was also tough talk from the representatives over President Obama’s failure to consult Congress before beginning airstrikes. No briefing was held with the House Armed Services Committee before the intervention began on March 19.
“We don’t understand what’s he’s doing still and I don’t think he has the support of this Congress,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).
Gates testified, “The President actually did not make his final decision on what to do until Thursday night.”
Gates and Mullen both testified that there would be no American ground troops in Libya. Media reports state that CIA teams are already operating within the country.
“Recent press reports say there are CIA operatives on the ground, and that’s boots on the ground as I would define it,” said Rep. Todd Young (R-IN).
The Congressional hearing came as Vatican sources reported 40 civilian causalities from coalition airstrikes in Tripoli today.
Vijay Prashad, the Director of International Studies at Trinity College said there seems to be a lack of clarity when it comes to US strategy in Libya. The military should be very aware of what is going-on on the ground, he argued, saying the US has friends and allies among the rebels that keep the informed.
“They must know more than they are telling the Armed Services Committee,” he said.
There are members leading the fight that once lived and worked in Washington, who left Libya under US assistance following past conflicts.
“Even if there are no boots on the ground, there are boots in the air,” explained Prashad.
The addition of battlefield aircraft used to launch missiles and collect intelligence makes the US as much a part of the civil war whether they are walking or flying. He argued, in addition to western forces, the United States and possibly others will eventually sell or give weapons to the rebels because the rebels do not have enough supplies to last forever.