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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?

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Anthony Cordesman, a military and strategic security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, says that after siding openly with the rebels, NATO is left with a choice between “farce” and “force.” Either the international coalition accepts that it must use more force against a surprisingly adaptive and resilient Colonel Qaddafi, he says, or it is left with a farce that condemns a poorly organized rebel force to merely holding on, and a population to worsening prospects.

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IN PICTURES: Foreign forces to Libya

“Ugly and tragic as the reality is, only luck and a sudden collapse of Qaddafi’s nerve will now change this situation unless farce is replaced with force,” Dr. Cordesman says in a commentary Wednesday on the CSIS website.

It would take months “at a minimum” for European military advisers to make any progress toward organizing more effective rebel forces, Cordesman says. In the meantime, the normal trade into a country that imports 75 percent of its food is largely disrupted, he adds, especially into rebel redoubts like Misurata.

Arguing that the US and other powers have an obligation to “finish what they started” by undertaking a “humanitarian” intervention, Cordesman says the NATO powers, including the US, have to shift to a decisive air campaign – including the targeting of Qaddafi, his family, and key supporters as a consequence for the regime’s attacks on Libyan civilians.

Others say the Libyan intervention cannot succeed without foreign troops, in particular special operations forces, on the ground.

“Air power alone has been remarkably ineffective up until now,” says Alvaro de Vasconcelos, director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris. Sparing Misurata from a humanitarian disaster will be “impossible without the use of ground troops,” he says.

On the other hand, halting Qaddafi’s onslaught in Misurata “will almost certainly precipitate the end of the regime,” Mr. Vasconcelos says, because it would revivify the rebels and trigger an anti-Qaddafi “uprising” in Tripoli.

At the White House, officials say Obama remains opposed to sending any US troops to Libya.

Rebel leaders in Benghazi have said they do not want foreign troops on Libyan soil, although reports out of Misurata have quoted residents there begging for any foreign troops, even the Americans, to come save them.

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