US must push aid -- and maybe weapons -- to Libya 

The United States must move swiftly to provide humanitarian aid to areas in Libya where opposition groups have gained control, reach out to influential rebel leaders and -- if necessary -- provide them with weapons and other aid or risk seeing the country fall into the hands of Islamic extremists, experts and officials said.

The Obama administration also must be willing to step up the military pressure to depose Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime if he continues to escalate violence against the Libyan people, the experts said.

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute who specializes in national security and defense issues, told The Washington Examiner that the "worst case scenario" would be a military intervention by the United States with multilateral partners.

That action would "not be direct military intervention but taking action beyond a no-fly zone to a possible no-drive zone with cooperation from neighboring countries -- and as a last resort the possible shipment of arms to opposition groups in Libya," O'Hanlon said. "You want to have the combination that will allow us to act fast and act multilaterally. Invading unilaterally would be a mistake in my book. It would be good to have multilateral action, and we looked at numerous scenarios behind closed doors."

Late Saturday night, President Obama called for Gadhafi to remove himself from office, and on Monday the U.S. government froze a record $30 billion in Libyan assets. Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, on a conference call with reporters, said it was an executive order by President Obama. Cohen did not provide details as to how much belonged to the Gaddafi family and did not disclose the U.S. institutions involved.

Libya's immigration minister, who was one of the first to resign from the Gadhafi regime, told The Examiner that the administration needs to take the lead against Gadhafi. Ali el Rishi said that many former Libyan officials were disappointed that the president did not call for Gadhafi's removal earlier last week and that concerns that Libya may fall into the hands of terrorist or extremist regimes are "understandable but can be mitigated if the West takes an active role to reinforce its commitment to the Libyan people."

El Rishi added, "We need to send a clear and unequivocal message that this regime no longer represents Libya before the international community. U.S. intelligence officials who are concerned with Libya falling to extremists need to actively help prevent it, and for the Libyan people nothing was worse than Gadhafi."

A U.S. official familiar with recent intelligence assessments regarding Libya said, "Whatever happens in Libya, we'll keep a close eye on any attempt by al Qaeda and its allies to establish a safe haven. At this point, however, they're not a factor in the opposition."

Jim Phillips, a Middle East expert with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said the administration "should start shipping humanitarian aid, food and medical supplies to areas where the opposition has re-established law and order."

He said by taking this step the administration would be making a "concrete sign of American support for the Libyan people."

At the same time, the "administration should make contingency plans for the use of military force to protect American citizens still in Libya and at some point intervene to halt the regime's attacks on its own people if these attacks continue," Phillips said.

The White House should consider Americans still in Libya and buy them more time to evacuate before threatening the regime with military action, Phillips said.

Phillips suggested that the administration also work with countries such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia to "dangle the prospect of safe passage to a life in exile to Gadhafi."

El Rishi said Gadhafi is "like a wild, trapped animal." He added, "If it were between exile and his continuing bloodshed, then exile should be a viable option because it's not worth the loss of more life."

Phillips said Gadhafi will reject any offers for asylum even though "it would save a lot of lives if he could be convinced to leave."

He said however things play out in the next several days or even weeks, Gadhafi's future isn't difficult to predict.

"I think that eventually he will be overthrown and get his wish to die as a martyr at the hands of his own people," Phillips added. "But this may take longer than people now think it will."

Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at

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