US President Barack Obama has authorised the use of covert US support for the Libyan rebels, as forces loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi pushed the poorly-disciplined rebels out of several recently-taken towns.
His signature has been widely reported as the first stage of authorising the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to arm the rebels, however neither the CIA or the US State Department would confirm the decision.
Obama never ruled out providing direct assistance, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar have expressed support for arming the rebels.
“It’s fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We’re looking at all our options at this point,” Obama told US media.
Involvement of Western powers in Libya following the UN Security Council’s resolution has escalated from initially disabling Gaddafi’s air defenses in order to provide a no-fly zone, to attacking armour columns threatening rebel-held towns, and now to providing direct assistance to opposition forces.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, also the head of the country’s infamous intelligence service, has defected from the Libyan dictator and arrived in London via Tunisa.
Koussa reportedly told waiting UK officials that he was “no longer willing” to represent Gaddafi’s government.
The US was also this week grappling with the fallout of an article in Rolling Stone magazine and German newspaper Der Spiegel, concerning a rogue army unit in Afghanistan accused of killing three civilians for sport and cutting off their fingers as trophies.
Photos collected by the soldiers showed members of the Fifth Stryker Brigade posing with the dead bodies. The soldiers involved reportedly killed the civilians and planted ‘drop weapons’ near the bodies, claiming they were enemy combatants.
After a concerted effort to repress the photos from publication, the Pentagon has apologised and claimed the images are “in striking contrast to the standards and values of the United States Army.”
Five soldiers have been charged with murder and are being tried in a military court.