White House working to stop flow of mercenaries into Libya

White House working to stop flow of mercenaries into Libya

Though the Obama administration hasn’t yet decided whether or how to aid the Libyan opposition, the White House is working to stop the flow of mercenaries fighting for Qaddafi entering the country from countries surrounding Libya like Chad and Niger.

"We’ve been working to ensure there isn’t a flow of people into Libya," said Samantha Power, the National Security Council’s senior director for multilateral affairs, on a Wednesday conference call with non-governmental groups. The call was off the record, but a recording was provided to The Cable.

Power didn’t go into detail about whether or not the administration believes that Qaddafi is still trying to import mercenaries and she didn’t going into detail about what the U.S. was doing to stop the flow of people into Libya.

Power was responding to a question about what the White House was doing to make sure violence in Libya didn’t spill over into other countries, such as Sudan. She responded that the White House was monitoring the flow of migrant workers as well as those who might be coming to Libya to fight in the conflict.

"There’s always danger of flows in both directions that we’re very much on the lookout for," she said.

There are still thousands of migrant workers trapped in Libya and non-governmental organization leaders on the call were also concerned that the flow of goods through Libya to its neighbors might also be disrupted.

Power also said that the administration was increasingly reaching out to opposition groups in Libya, with the goal of setting up reliable communications to better understand the situation on the ground.

"Our contacts with the Libya opposition are expanding," she said, but added that the opposition leaders the White House was speaking with were having problems setting up reliable ways to keep in touch.

That’s complicating the administration’s drive to provide assistance to civilians trying to leave Libya and also to prevent potential fighters who are trying to get in, Power said.

"We are looking at ways to make sure that message is out there but it’s a very challenging problem right now," she said.

The administration has been stepping up its assistance to migrant workers who want to leave Libya, sending Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg to Tunisia and Egypt this week.

They are meeting with government officials, international organizations, and nongovernmental organization representatives, according to the State Department, and the American officials will have role in deciding how to disperse the $30 million that the United States has allocated for humanitarian assistance to the victims of the crisis in Libya.

Ambassador Gene Cretz, the same U.S. diplomat who was forced to leave Libya after WikiLeaks released cables signed by him referring to Qaddafi’s "voluptuous" blonde nurse, met with Libyan opposition leaders in Rome and Cairo this week, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the administration’s internal debate over whether to take more aggressive steps to aid the Libyan opposition continues. President Barack Obama and White House staff continue to say that all options remain on the table, while the Defense Department and the State Department continue to express logistical and legal justifications for why actions such as arming the rebels or imposing a no fly zone might not be a good idea.

On Tuesday, the White House sent out a read out of Obama’s call with British Prime Minister David Cameron that maintained planning was going forward on several options for intervention in Libya.

"The President and the Prime Minister agreed to press forward with planning, including at NATO, on the full spectrum of possible responses, including surveillance, humanitarian assistance, enforcement of the arms embargo, and a no fly zone," the readout said.

Earlier that day, senior U.S. defense officials warned senators that the no-fly zone would be a full-combat operation, requiring extensive commitments of manpower and resources. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that a no-fly zone means "you would be entering into combat operations there."

"The first element, I believe, of entering into a no-fly zone is likely combat operations on Libya. And so I think in talking about a no-fly zone, there are some precursor steps that have to be taken," said Roughead, "And then it’s also the issue of what are the forces that would be used, where are they postured, what are the basing, the over-flight issues. I think all of those have to be sorted through. We’ve done no-fly zones before, and there is a significant infrastructure that backs them up, whether it’s naval or land-based."

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) also struck back on Tuesday at the State Department’s claim that arming the Libyan opposition would be "illegal" under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970.

"The President has consistently and correctly said that ‘all options are on the table’ in Libya. If the State Department’s statement today is correct, however, it means one of the most effective options to help the Libyan people has been taken off the table. We urge the Administration to clarify its position on this important issue," the senators said in a statement.