Top Obama administration officials told lawmakers on Wednesday that no decision has been made on whether to arm rebels who are being outgunned by Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces on the ground in Libya.
During a classified meeting with House members, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and other senior military and intelligence officials also reaffirmed that there are no plans to send U.S. ground forces to Libya, lawmakers leaving the meeting said.
A similar briefing is scheduled for the Senate members on Wednesday evening.
Following the meeting, several Republicans bemoaned the administration’s failure to consult Congress before the first strikes in Libya nearly two weeks ago.
“Why didn’t you consult with Congress, why didn’t you get authorization?” asked Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. “Secretary Clinton’s answer was there was no need for them to get our support. They believe that they have legal opinion and they have past actions that demonstrate that they have no need to ask for Congress’ authorization or consultation and they have no intention of coming and asking for Congress’ authorization.”
Democrats, meanwhile, said the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, was detailed and informative and provided lawmakers from both sides of the aisle an opportunity to grill the administration on the operation.
House Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said the classified briefing wasn't contentious, but that people did voice “strong feelings.”
Dicks said the officials told lawmakers that no decision had been made on whether to arm the Libyan rebels. He said it is an issue he believes will be given some consideration. But, like the administration, Dicks said he is withholding judgment for now.
Others, including House Intelligence ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said the Libyan rebels should not be given arms at this time.
“We don’t have enough data or information. The rebels basically have been arming themselves … because there are so many weapons,” he said. “There are 20,000 [shoulder-fired missiles]. The ability for groups to get ammunition and weapons is very unique there. Whether or not the coalition will do that, that’s down the road.”
When asked if he would back providing covert support to the rebels, Ruppersberger said: “We have unique resources that other countries don’t have. Part of the resources is our superior intelligence community. And that is not, in my opinion, putting boots on the ground.” He said Gates and Clinton did not discuss covert support for the rebels.
Ruppersberger added that the officials did not give lawmakers an indication of how long the Libyan operation will go on, but that he thinks it will be awhile.
Uncertainty over the length of the operation has prompted members to raise concerns about its potential costs. The Pentagon said the bill for Libya hit $550 million through Monday but was expected to drop precipitously as NATO takes over the lead. The Defense Department expects to spend $40 million for the next three weeks, and then $40 million a month after that, if all goes according to plan.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said he does not know yet whether emergency supplemental funding will be needed for the action. “The cost does concern me, and we’ll, I’m sure, have more conversations about that,” he said. “That remains to be seen, on a supplemental, from what I heard.”
Dicks said he does not believe the Pentagon will require supplemental funding – at least not right away.
Humberto Sanchez contributed