Senator: Gadhafi's military seriously degraded

June 10, 2011 - 3:30 PM
Mideast Libya

A Libyan man waves a banner made up of various flags of the countries supporting the revolution against Moammar Gadhafi during Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade's visit in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Libya, Thursday, June 9, 2011. The embattled regime of Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday vehemently denied accusations by a U.N. panel and Western nations that Libyan government forces have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Constant pounding from NATO warplanes has significantly undermined Moammar Gadhafi's military forces and weakened the Libyan leader's political standing, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Friday.

Speaking after a classified Pentagon assessment of the nearly 3-month-old campaign, Sen. Carl Levin said he's satisfied that "NATO operations are going well, they're coordinated, and we have not lost one person yet."

Levin based his assessment on a series of recent NATO strikes on the capital of Tripoli and the surrounding area, in the face of Gadhafi's vow to fight to the death. Determined to push back the rebels, Gadhafi's forces have hit the outskirts of the rebel-held city of Misarata.

"I'm satisfied that Gadhafi's military has been seriously degraded, that politically he's been significantly weakened," Levin, D-Mich., told reporters after emerging from the closed briefing. He said that a sustained NATO operation and the potential involvement of other allied countries will be critical but that "things are going in the right direction in Libya."

The senator said the administration offered no timeline on when operations would end or Gadhafi would leave. But Levin dismissed suggestions that the civil war is at a stalemate.

"Gadhafi's being weakened significantly and continually degraded and there's now an addition of helicopters from two others countries, I believe French and British, able to pick off his tanks in a very careful way without collateral damage," the senator said.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been pressing the Obama administration for details on the operation, and the briefing was the second for senators in two days. Levin and Sen. Pete Sessions, R-Ala., were the only two senators at Friday's meeting as the Senate was not in session and most lawmakers had left Washington.

"It's sort of a fait accompli," Sessions said of the Libya operation. "The administration has gone off with this operation which hopefully will be successful."

Last week, the House voted to rebuke President Barack Obama for failing to get authorization from Congress when he ordered airstrikes beginning March 19 against Gadhafi's forces. The Constitution says Congress has the power to declare war, and the 1973 War Powers Resolution requires the president to obtain congressional authorization within 60 days of the start of military operations, a deadline that passed last month.

Levin said he didn't think a majority opposed the U.S. support role in the NATO operation that includes American intelligence, surveillance and the use of Predator drones. But the frustration was evident in the House, nevertheless.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, insisted in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the administration comply with the House resolution's request for a report on the scope, costs and other details of the Libyan operation as well as the rationale. The report is due by the end of next week.

"Setting forth that case with specificity is critical to addressing the mistrust that is building and, in turn, critical to mission success," Ros-Lehtinen wrote.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., pressed for the administration to cooperate and provide the report, warning of the consequences if it ignores Congress.

"While members respect the president's authority as commander in chief, it is quite possible that a resolution of disapproval could pass the House, unless the administration provides the information necessary for Congress to conduct constitutional oversight," McKeon wrote.

Separately, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for all Justice Department documents related to the Libyan operation.