Pentagon officials come under fire from GOP on Libya

Pentagon officials came under fire Thursday from House and Senate Republicans about the Libyan military intervention, but for different reasons.

House Armed Services Committee Republicans questioned the Obama administration’s decision to intervene and its mission plans, while their Senate Armed Services Committee counterparts called for the administration to put more muscle in the mission.

During an afternoon session, some Senate Republicans criticized the administration for taking a backseat to NATO and coalition militaries on aerial strike missions targeting Gadhafi’s ground units.

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Barr threatens tech's prized legal shield Barr has considered resigning over Trump tweets about DOJ: reports MORE (R-S.C.) asked Gates and Mullen: “Who would be mad at us if we dropped a bomb on Gadhafi?”

Committee ranking member John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAdvice for fellow Democrats: Don't count out Biden, don't fear a brokered convention McSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad Eleventh Democratic presidential debate to be held in Phoenix MORE (R-Ariz.) panned the administration’s war plans, saying that falling into a supporting role in NATO’s operations is a “profound mistake.”

“For the United States to be withdrawing our unique offensive capabilities at this time sends the exact wrong signal,” McCain said, “both to our coalition partners as well as to the Gadhafi regime – especially to those Libyan officials whom we are trying to compel to break with Gadhafi.”

McCain said Washington should not claim to be neutral and should unleash all of its offensive combat power to bring about its political objective of getting Gadhafi to relinquish power. A stalemate is in no one’s interest, McCain said.

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.) said she “can’t see how we succeed” without using every military tool that could bring about Gadhafi’s ouster.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen told the hawkish GOP senators that the U.S. move to a supporting role was always the plan and well understood by its allies.

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During a hearing Thursday morning in the House, GOP members were skeptical about the operation.

On Wednesday, following a classified White House briefing with lawmakers, a frustrated House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) said he feels boots on the ground will be required to resolve the situation in Libya.


“We did no-fly zones in Iraq and Bosnia, and those didn’t resolve anything,” McKeon told The Hill. “For this thing to be resolved, someone is going to have to put boots on the ground.”

Also on Wednesday, McKeon told The Hill he would not have launched the intervention.

On Thursday, McKeon said the administration’s military goal of protecting Libyan civilians and its political objective that Gadhafi relinquish power “seems like two mutually exclusive points.”

“This sounds like foreshadowing of an entrenched military operation,” McKeon said. “If it is not permissible for [Gadhafi] to remain in power, why is there a limited military mission?”

The defense secretary was also questioned as to why the administration opted against consulting closely with Congress before the onset of the Libyan operation.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said it appears to many lawmakers that the War Powers Act “has not been complied with.”

The defense secretary said he has worked for eight presidents and seven have taken similar actions as Obama did on Libya. The congressional notification for armed conflicts has created tensions between the executive branch and Congress “for 35 years,” Gates said.

Turner told Gates and Mullen “there is a significant question whether you have Congress’s support,” adding: “I think if there was a vote today, I doubt it would pass.”

Graham predicted lawmakers will vote on a resolution that would authorize the operation soon, and he warned the Pentagon leaders the administration’s plans must get “more clear and more decisive” if it hopes to garner congressional approval.

Rep. Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenAviation chairmen cite safety, new tech among concerns for the future The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Diplomat's 'powerful' testimony and 'lynching' attract headlines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump's impeachment plea to Republicans MORE (D-Wash.) said he is confident such a vote on the House floor would fall on partisan lines.

Senior Pentagon brass said U.S. national security officials know very little about Libyan opposition groups.

Gates and Mullen told the House panel that the Libyan opposition is a number of disorganized groups with differing agendas.

“It’s pretty much a pick-up game at this point,” Gates said during a morning hearing, adding that it is unclear whether the rebels have a collective leader or if they are working in unison. “Other than a handful of leaders, we don’t have a good picture of the opposition,” he said bluntly.

Under questioning by Larsen about steps the U.S. military is taking to organize the rebel elements, Gates responded that “part of the challenge is the rebels are so disparate and so scattered.”

This means U.S. and coalition forces “have little means of doing that,” the outgoing defense secretary told the panel.

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Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) pressed the defense officials on efforts to get arms to Libyan opposition fighters, which, as he put it, “seem to be getting their butts whipped.”

Administration and Pentagon officials, Mullen said, have yet to decide on whether to take steps to arm the rebels.

Echoing comments Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn Forbes KerryMellman: Primary elections aren't general elections Consensus forming for ambitious climate goal: Net zero pollution New Hampshire primary turnout is a boost to Democrats MORE (D-Mass.) told reporters Wednesday evening, Mullen told Miller “there are plenty of nations with the arms and skills sets to do this.”

Turner questioned how U.S. national security officials can have so little information.

Gates shot back that the coalition acted not to boost the opposition elements, but because “we know a lot about Gadhafi” and how destabilizing to the region he could be.