(Reuters) – Too little is known about Libya’s rebels and they remain too fragmented for the United States to get seriously involved in organizing or training them, let alone arming them, U.S. and European officials say.
U.S. and allied intelligence agencies believe NATO’s no-fly zone and air strikes will be effective in stopping Muammar Gaddafi’s forces from killing civilians and dislodging rebels from strongholds like Benghazi, the officials say.
But the more the intelligence agencies learn about rebel forces, the more they appear to be hopelessly disorganized and incapable of coalescing in the foreseeable future.
U.S. government experts believe the state of the opposition is so grave that it could take years to organize, arm and train them into a fighting force strong enough to drive Gaddafi from power and set up a working government.
The realistic outlook, U.S. and European officials said, is for an indefinite stalemate between the rebels — supported by NATO air power — and Gaddafi’s forces.
“At this point neither side is able to defeat the other and neither appears willing to compromise,” said one U.S. official who follows the Libyan conflict closely.
“The opposition needs time to do what they need to do — forming a government, bringing together key opposition figures, getting on the same page and building a new generation of leaders,” the official said.
There is no sign the CIA or any other U.S. agency is organizing arms supplies for the rebels. But U.S. officials say privately that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are willing to provide weapons and other support to Gaddafi’s foes.
There are “indications” that Qatar has begun to supply some easy-to-use weapons, including shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets, to the opposition, a U.S. official said on Thursday. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday.
Pentagon officials say NATO air strikes, combined with enforcement of an arms embargo, will degrade Gaddafi’s fighting ability. The hope is this may create cracks in his regime and open the way for a political solution to the crisis.
One Western official compared the no-fly zone to a greenhouse that hopefully will allow for the gradual growth of a national opposition movement in Libya that draws together the disparate rebel factions.
Several weeks ago, President Barack Obama signed a secret order — a “covert action finding” — authorizing the CIA to consider a range of operations to support Gaddafi’s opponents.
But the order requires the CIA to seek extra “permissions” from the White House before specific measures such as providing training, money or weapons.
CIA operatives on the ground are aggressively collecting information on the rebels, their structure, leadership and military capabilities, U.S. officials said.