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U.S. aid to Libyan opposition held up at White House

On April 15, the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to send $25 million of non-lethal military aid to the Libyan rebels, but as of today that money is being held up by the White House and no funds or goods have been disbursed. The State Department’s congressional notification about the aid funds, first ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

On April 15, the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to send $25 million of non-lethal military aid to the Libyan rebels, but as of today that money is being held up by the White House and no funds or goods have been disbursed.

The State Department's congressional notification about the aid funds, first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Times, stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" -- all items identified by the Libyan opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC) as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces in cities such as Misrata.

On April 15, the State Department notified Congress that it wanted to send $25 million of non-lethal military aid to the Libyan rebels, but as of today that money is being held up by the White House and no funds or goods have been disbursed.

The State Department’s congressional notification about the aid funds, first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Times, stated that the aid would include "vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios" — all items identified by the Libyan opposition’s National Transitional Council (NTC) as urgently needed to protect civilians from Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces in cities such as Misrata.

"One of the reasons why I announced $25 million in nonlethal aid yesterday, why many of our partners both in NATO and in the broader Contact Group are providing assistance to the opposition – is to enable them to defend themselves and to repulse the attacks by Qaddafi forces," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on this morning.

"There’s an urgent situation here and they need our help," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday.

But as of today, six days after the State Department notified Congress it planned to give the aid, the White House has still not signed off and none of the aid has begun its journey to the rebels, despite that intense fighting is ongoing.

"Yesterday’s announcement of the 25 million in drawdown assistance was not fully cooked. That still needs to head to the White House, be confirmed or ratified by the president, and then we can begin implementing it," Toner explained at Thursday afternoon’s State Department briefing.

So what’s the hold up? National Security Staff spokesperson Tommy Vietor declined to comment on why the White House was holding up the funds or when a decision would be made.

Meanwhile, a State Department official said that the State Department’s top official in Libya Chris Stevens continues to work with the NTC to figure out what they need and whether the U.S. can provide specific items of assistance.

If the aid is approved by the White House, Libya rebels could be soon wearing U.S. military uniforms, although without the U.S. flag stitched on them.

"Many places around the world people wear old NYC police uniforms, they won’t be the current uniforms, they have old stocks," the official said.

The U.S. and other countries are readying further measures to increase pressure on Qaddafi through further sanctions on the regime’s oil business and tighter enforcement of existing sanctions, the official said.

When asked if the U.S. was considering military advisors to Libya, as the British and French are doing now, the official said, "No."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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