President Obama has signed a secret presidential finding authorizing covert operations in Libya, a U.S. official told Fox News, although the administration says it still hasn’t decided whether to arm rebel forces there.
The presidential findings establish a framework of legal authorities for covert action. They can authorize specific actions, such as arming the rebels, or establish authorities under which future actions might be taken after permissions are given to undertake them.
In other words, covert actions won’t start until the president signs off again.
Another senior American official, however, says CIA operatives are already on the ground in Libya and are currently gathering intelligence and aiding rebel forces.
The Pentagon has begun drafting plans for arming the rebels if needed, sources told Fox News, but officials caution that no decision has been made because not enough is known yet about the rebels.
It will take “a little more passage of time and more interaction” with the Libyan rebels before the U.S. can make a well informed decision as to whether to arm the Libyan rebels, a senior Obama administration official told Fox News, but the official also cautioned that senior policymakers are not, at present, convinced that doing so “will bring about the desired outcome.”
That said, “we are very much looking at it” as a policy option, the official added.
The question of whether to arm the rebels has risen to the forefront of the debate over U.S. intervention in the war-torn country, as Obama has come out strongly against sending American ground troops to help oust Libya leader Muammar al-Qaddafi while also hesitating to support efforts behind the scenes to negotiate Qaddafi’s exit.
More than a week after the start of coalition airstrikes on Qaddafi military sites in support of U.N.-authorized no-fly zone, the U.S. and its allies are presently in the position of seeing whether rebels can seize the moment and turn the tide against Qaddafi forces. U.S. military leaders have expressed skepticism that the rebels will prevail on their own.
Obama and his national security team are still hoping that events on the ground – such as the death or resignation of Col. Qaddafi – might spare them from having to make a decision about arming the rebels, the senior administration official told Fox News.