The top U.S. intelligence official says Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi will likely be able to withstand efforts by anti-government rebels to topple him. The director of national intelligence said Thursday that Mr. Gadhafi has no intention of leaving.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that, given the advantage of superior troops and weapons, Moammar Gadhafi will likely defeat the rebels who are trying to oust him.
"They're [i.e., Libyan armed forces] the most robustly equipped, with Russian equipment that includes air defense, artillery, tanks, mechanized equipment. And they appear to be much more disciplined about how they treat and repair that equipment," said Clapper. "So I just think from a standpoint of attrition that over time, I mean this kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think that over the longer term that the regime will prevail."
Appearing before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Clapper dismissed the notion that Mr. Gadhafi is ready to step down or come to an agreement with the rebels.
James R. Clapper, Jr., Director of National Intelligence, testifies on Capitol Hill before the Senate Armed Services committee hearing on current and future worldwide threats to U.S. national security, March 10 2011
"We believe that Gadhafi is in this for the long haul. I don't think he has any intention, despite some of the press speculation to the contrary, of leaving. From all evidence that we have, which I'd be prepared to discuss in closed session, he appears to be hunkering down for the duration," Clapper said.
Army Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, agreed with Clapper’s assessment, saying that Moammar Gadhafi has “staying power.” He said the rebels had the initial advantage, but that attrition is taking its toll.
"I think the press had it about right in terms of initially the momentum was with the other side. That has started to shif," said Burgess. "Whether or not it has fully moved to Gadhafi's side at this time in country, I think, is not clear at this time. But we have now reached a state of equilibrium where the initiative, if you will, may actually be on the regime side at this time. But we're watching that in these days right now."
According to an assessment by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the rebels are disorganized, lack sufficient training and are equipped primarily with small arms such as automatic rifles, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks.
Clapper told the Senate committee that the rebels are at the mercy of Libyan aircraft, but he added that rebel casualties from planes and helicopters have not been great.
The two intelligence officers faced questioning from senators who want the Obama administration to take action to help the rebels, such as setting a no-fly zone and granting some form of diplomatic recognition for the rebels’ self-styled interim government.
But Clapper said that setting up a no-fly zone is not a simple task. He called the threat from Libya's air defense system “substantial,” noting that Libya has ground radar protecting coastal areas, where some 80 percent of the population lives, with about 30 major surface-to-air missile sites as well as portable surface-to-air missiles.