Chief Military Correspondent
Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafy is determined to crush the popular uprising against him and has the weapons to do it, top U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday.
While the fighting rages back and forth between rebels and Gadhafy's forces, the regime has a clear advantage in weapons and logistics.
"Over the long term he will prevail," said James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, who represents the best collective assessments of all U.S. intelligence agencies.
The anti-Gadhafy rebels received a jolt of support Thursday, receiving formal diplomatic recognition from France. But the news was more dismal on the military front. Libyan tanks and artillery targeted rebels around the oil port of Ras Lanuf Thursday and Libyan jets struck other oil facilities in eastern Libya as Gadhafy's forces pushed deeper into territory formerly held by rebels. To the west of Tripoli, the capital and Gadhafy's stronghold, his forces laid siege to try to starve out rebels clinging to parts of the shattered city of Zawiyah, Reuters reported.
Describing "a very fluid situation" in the North African nation, Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the center of Gadhafy's power are his 32nd
brigades, which are personally loyal and disciplined, and heavily armed with tanks and other mechanized weapons and air defense artillery.
Given the rebels' lack of steady resupply of weapons and ammunition, Clapper said that "from the standpoint of attrition over time, there's likely to be a kind of stalemate back and forth, but over time [Gadhafy] will prevail."
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that in the early days of the revolt against Gadhafy the rebels initially had the momentum. "That has started to shift," he said. "There is now a state of equilibrium where the initiative may be with the regime side -- we are watching that."
Clapper acknowledged that Gadhafy may not be able to hold the entire country, and that eastern Libya and especially the rebel-held city of Benghazi could become "a mini-state." Or, he said, Libya could shatter into a chaos of fighting among various groups. "We could see a Somalia-type situation here," he said.
Across the region, where popular uprisings have erupted against regimes from Tunisia to Yemen, "we're in for a bumpy time," said Clapper. "This is not going to be an equally smooth transition from country to country."
And while the United States faces increasing pressure to intervene, he said generally in the region "our image is not very good. . . . We're very unpopular there.''
Questioned about the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone across Libya, Clapper -- a former Air Force lieutenant general -- echoed the assessments of other officers that it would be more difficult than it appears. Strike aircraft would have to take out Libyan air defenses, including 31 antiaircraft missile sites and "a large number" of portable, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles. "We would have to sort out which were in the hands of the opposition and which weren't," he said.