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Thursday, April 14

Libya Possum Chronicles


8:00 AM ET UPDATE
Gadhafi kept saying Qatar was supplying the rebels with arms and no one would believe him but now someone's ratted out Qatar and they've admitted they've been secretly supplying arms. So that's where the French-made missiles have been coming from. The Guardian has the story.
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I didn't get a chance to watch TV news coverage yesterday but while I was perusing last night's rush transcript for CNN's main news report, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, I noticed that at the top of the hour Wolf said:
"Just days after NATO took control of operations in Libya, a surprising revelation about the U.S. military's role, what the Pentagon is now saying.
I then scrolled through the transcript, looking for what CNN had to say about the "surprising revelation," which The New York Times had broken sometime in the late afternoon. I scrolled and scrolled until finally I came upon these words, near the end of the transcript:
BLITZER: All right, Brianna. Thanks very much.

This footnote. You can read more from Jay Newton-Small about the CNN/"TIME" political roundtable over at TIME.com.

Just days after NATO took control of operations in Libya, a surprising revelation about the U.S. military's role, what the Pentagon is now saying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of today's "Hot Shots."

In London, workers begin preparations for the royal wedding. [...]
Blame it on the transcript service -- unless one wants to argue that the only people truly able to keep up with the way editorial policies percolate through the news media are (a) retired police who served on a vice squad for at least a decade and (b) retired plainclothes detectives who were employed for at least a decade by a major casino. People who've worked in those fields for years really have seen it all -- every scam, every sleight-of-hand.

Not that I'm calling CNN a scam, but I'm just saying that the attitude and experience of say, a veteran vice squad cop is the best help to spotting the news media equivalent of black ice on the road.

Moving along to the Times report we learn that President Obama was playing possum regarding the nature of the U.S. military involvement in Libya, then in response to complaints at NATO that the U.S. wasn't doing enough, the Pentagon popped out with the announcement, then Times reporters began dialing their sources. My favorite part of the report is the discussion about nuance:
Pentagon Says It Has Kept Up Some Strikes on Libya

By THOM SHANKER
Published: April 13, 2011
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials disclosed Wednesday that American warplanes had continued to strike targets in Libya even after the Obama administration said the United States was stepping back from offensive missions and letting NATO take the lead.

Although American officials had said that no aircraft would fly offensive strike missions, unless officially approved in Washington, 11 warplanes have flown 97 sorties intended to electronically jam or otherwise suppress Libyan air defenses since April 4, when command of the mission was handed over to NATO and the United States publicly said it was stepping back to a supporting role.

The number of actual missile strikes during those missions was only three; all were against Libyan air defense systems, whether radars, command-and-control sites or surface-to-air missiles. Two of them were to destroy hard-to-find and hard-to-strike mobile targets.

In explaining the gap between public statements and operational details, officials said the trio of strikes on Libyan targets since April 4 were classified as defensive, not offensive.

The distinction was that these attacks were intended to incapacitate Libyan radars, antiaircraft batteries or command centers in order to protect NATO strike aircraft, and were not offensive actions against Libyan government forces threatening civilians.

Pentagon officials had to scramble Wednesday to explain the latest nuance about the American mission in Libya.

The administration has expended enormous effort calibrating its explanation of the intervention there to a variety of audiences: the American public, Libyans still loyal to the government or rebel sympathizers, and people in Europe and the Arab world.

At a minimum, the disclosure of strikes dating back several days — on April 4, 6 and 7 — revealed a tin ear for how the facts of daily combat operations would compare to public statements that left the impression that the United States had ceased dropping bombs and missiles on Libya.

The continued operation of American warships and warplanes in both supporting and attacking roles is evidence that, while NATO is in command, the United States military remains the partner with specific capabilities that are required for the alliance to operate effectively.

American officials had said that only support aircraft — like refueling, reconnaissance and command-and-control planes — would be part of the daily operation. Any NATO desire for American strike aircraft, in particular the A-10 tank-buster and the AC-130 flying gunship — would have to be requested formally and approved in Washington.

But the 11 American warplanes assigned to a mission called Suppression of Enemy Air Defense are flying as part of the NATO-led mission.

“It is a purely defensive mission,” the Pentagon said in an official statement. Later, the Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, added, “It is completely consistent with how we have described our support role ever since the transition to NATO lead.”

The American aircraft assigned to suppressing Libyan air defenses are six F-16CJ aircraft and five E/A-18G warplanes, according to Pentagon officials. Working together, they can detect and jam adversary air defense systems and attack them with missiles, some specifically designed to home in on radar emissions.

The disclosure came one day after fissures opened among the allies over the scope and the intensity of attacks against Libyan government forces. Britain and France, in particular, called on NATO and its partners to intensify strikes.
[...]
I see a problem with Obama prodding the Pentagon to admit in public that the U.S. government had been playing possum. Isn't this admitting that even with more American air support than was publicly known, Gadhafi has still managed to eke out a stalemate? So what's it going to take to deal with Gadhafi to the satisfaction of CNN, Nicolas Sarkozy, and David Cameron?

Last night veteran MENA region CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman, who is fluent in Arabic and one of the media's best 'eyes on the ground' in Libya, spelled out the bad news in his nightly report for Anderson Cooper's AC360 show (10:00 PM ET). (The "General Kimmit" Cooper refers to is BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY):
[...]
COOPER: Ben, General Kimmitt made an interesting point about the Gadhafi military, the Gadhafi forces, pro-Gadhafi forces being a learning enemy, that they have adapted their tactics. The same cannot be said at all for the opposition forces. They do not seem to be a learning force.

WEDEMAN [reporting from Benghazi]: No, no, not at all. In fact, they seem to be learning almost nothing. Certainly compared to the Gadhafi forces who have changed their tactics completely. Initially they were using tanks and heavy weaponry. Now they're running around in the desert in pickup trucks, almost indistinguishable from the rebels.

The rebels however don't seem to be learning anything, and it seems that even the level of enthusiasm seems to be draining off a bit because they realized that at least in this part of the country, that they can't move forward. And, therefore, you see fewer and fewer men at the front lines.

You almost never see a senior commander there. We did notice that they have some new weaponry. We did see for instance the other day they have these MILAN anti-tank missiles made in France.

They did have some night-vision goggles, but they didn't even know how to use the night-vision goggles. They didn't realize that you need to put batteries inside. So they don't seem to be increasing their training. There's very little leadership at the front. Communications continues to be poor. And therefore, I don't think anyone realistically can expect any sort of advance from the east given these conditions.
There's more to the discussion, which anyone who's closely following the Libya situation might want to read; it begins near the top of the rush transcript. The CNN editorial viewpoint is strongly in favor of the U.S. supporting the rebels to the fullest extent possible so while the opinion part of the nightly discussions on AC360 (and other CNN news shows) is slanted in that direction, it's because of their viewpoint that they're closely tracking the situation.

As to whether last night's AC360 mentioned the Pentagon's news -- yes, briefly, but as you can see Cooper turned it into fodder for the argument that the U.S. needs to do much more. But he also clearly indicates that at this point, the U.S. and other NATO countries will be left holding the bag:
COOPER: Well, we learned today American aircraft are still being used in strikes against air defense systems and for jamming enemy radar and aerial refueling, but tank-busting American A-10 Warthog attack planes like these they stopped flying missions last week.

And a number of countries like Qatar and the UAE involved in the air effort refuse to let their planes be involved in attacks on Gadhafi forces for political reasons back home.

The question now with a stalemate on the ground between opposition forces and Gadhafi's army and Libyan civilians still suffering in places like Misrata and Tripoli and elsewhere, is NATO doing enough?
[...]

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