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White House: No evidence Kadafi has fled Libya

August 24, 2011|By Maeve Reston
(Steven Senne/Associated…)

Though Moammar Kadafi remains at large and has defied international calls to step down, President Obama still has confidence that rebel forces are gaining the upper hand in Libya and will be able to achieve a transition to “free and Democratic” Libya, White House officials said Wednesday.

Speaking from Obama’s vacation retreat in Martha’s Vineyard, Josh Earnest, the president’s principal deputy press secretary, said Libya’s rebel government, the Transitional National Council, is in the “early stages of trying to put some governmental infrastructure in place.”

”We do have confidence in the TNC … . And we are encouraged by the way they have conducted by themselves so far,” Earnest said during a briefing Wednesday in Vineyard Haven. “And we intend to be a partner and to be supportive of their efforts … to put in a governmental structure and transition to a freer Libya.”

Administration officials have offered few details about what the U.S. role in Libya would be if Kadafi is ousted in the days or weeks ahead. The White House insists that Obama’s position remains that he will not put U.S. forces on the ground.

Earnest said he had no information on reports that the international community is assembling a “bridging force” to assist in a potential post-Kadafi era. And the White House spokesman brushed off a question about whether administration officials are encouraging NATO or European allies to commit their own troops to that type of ground force.          

The U.S. is actively involved in an effort to help free up $1.5 billion in Libyan assets that were frozen earlier in the conflict, which would be used for humanitarian assistance and to support the TNC, Earnest said. The money should provide the fledgling government with a “significant start in trying to build up the kind of infrastructure that they need to build,” he said.

“This is an easy way for us to stand on the side of the Libyan people, to be supportive of their efforts to put in place a government that will acknowledge freedom, that will acknowledge democracy – and that’s something we remain committed to,” Earnest said. 

But he underscored that “there is no American military presence – in terms of boots on the ground – in Libya.”

“That’s one of the things that’s been remarkable about this operation – that the president was able to provide the kinds of leadership and support for the TNC, in close coordination with our NATO allies and with our allies in the region; that we were able to make that kind of commitment without putting boots on the ground there. And that’s something that we remain committed to and that does distinguish it from the situation that exists right now in Iraq.”

When asked how long the broader U.S. commitment to Libya would last or what level of financial support would be required, Earnest declined to speculate.

Though rumors abound that Kadafi has fled, White House officials said Wednesday that there is no evidence to indicate that the dictator has left Libya. They would not say whether U.S. intelligence forces are assisting in the search for Kadafi.

Rebel forces swept through part of Kadafi’s compound Tuesday and claim to have taken control of 95% of Libya, but fighting continued on the streets Wednesday. In a radio address broadcast in Libya early Wednesday, Kadafi vowed to fight to the death and said his decision to leave his compound was a tactical move.

That has put President Obama in an awkward spot. Earlier this week, Obama interrupted his vacation to make a televised statement in which he congratulated rebel forces on their incursion into Tripoli and called on Kadafi to relinquish power.    

Though that has yet to happen, Earnest reiterated Wednesday that Kadafi’s “42-year grip on power in Libya is slipping.” 

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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