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US aid to Libyan rebels: How effective are nonlethal supplies?

As NATO allies send military advisers to Libyan rebels, Obama approves direct US aid in the form of nonlethal supplies. Will that be enough to prevent a humanitarian disaster?

By Staff writer / April 20, 2011

A Libyan rebel fighter manning an anti-aircraft gun flashes the victory sign as his vehicle advances towards the front line, on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya, on April 20.

Ben Curtis/AP

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Washington

President Obama has approved the first direct US aid to the Libyan rebels.

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But even as three of America’s NATO partners – Britain, France, and Italy – announce plans to dispatch military advisers to aid the rebels, the White House is emphasizing that the US assistance will be strictly nonlethal in nature.

With the fate of many Libyans growing darker by the day, however, some regional analysts say nothing short of a more aggressive international effort will prevent an ensuing humanitarian disaster – the very thing international involvement was supposed to stop.

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Mr. Obama has informed Congress the US will be sending $25 million worth of mostly surplus Pentagon supplies – tents, boots, and medical supplies, for example – to the rebels fighting Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. But the White House was apparently so concerned that any supplies not be construed as lethal or as supplying the rebels with arms, that supplies like vehicles and fuel storage tanks were pulled from the list.

Libya is under a United Nations arms embargo, and the NATO allies carrying out a UN Security Council resolution authorizing international action in Libya have furiously debated whether arming the rebels would be permissible or not.

The White House says the sending of nonlethal supplies is evidence that the US remains fully engaged in the UN mandate, under the same Security Council resolution, to assist in the protection of Libyan rebels.

But with hundreds of thousands of Libyans under siege and hundreds dying in the fighting, pressure is growing on the international coalition to do more to stop a worsening humanitarian crisis.

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