WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States came under mounting pressure Sunday to help arm rebels facing Moamer Kadhafi's emboldened and regrouping military, amid charges Washington missed recent chances to oust Libya's strongman.
President Barack Obama has insisted that all options including military action remain on the table with respect to Libya, where Kadhafi forces have unleashed deadly airstrikes on rebels and civilians in efforts to crush an uprising in which thousands are believed to have been killed.
But with the administration cautioning that a decision on a no-fly zone was still far off, US lawmakers and former officials appearing on Sunday talk shows coalesced around the likelihood that supplying weapons to the outgunned rebels was a way forward.
"I assume that a lot of weapons are going to find their way there (to rebels in Libya) from one means or another over the course of the next weeks," Democrat John Kerry, who helms the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CBS's "Face the Nation."
Ex-governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, also said Sunday it was time to "covertly arm the rebels" and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.
And Stephen Hadley, national security advisor for Obama predecessor George W. Bush, said Washington should look at the potential for funneling arms to Kadhafi's opponents.
"Obviously, if there is a way to get weapons into the hands of the rebels, if we can get anti-aircraft systems so that they can enforce a no-fly zone over their own territory, that would be helpful," Hadley told CNN.
When asked if sending weapons to opposition forces was a possibility, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan told AFP: "As the president said, all options are being considered, but we're not discussing details of the various options."
Kerry said a no-fly zone -- which would necessitate air strikes to take out Libya's defenses -- should be set up in conjunction with allies, but warned that direct military action would be "trickier."
"The last thing we want to think about is any kind of military intervention, and I don't consider the fly zone stepping over that line," he said.
"We don't want troops on the ground. They don't want troops on the ground."
But there were other ways of displaying US might to Tripoli, including the use of military transport planes to fly Egyptian refugees out of Tunisia, and the recent arrival in the Mediterranean of two US warships with marines on board.
Washington recently missed a key opportunity to end Kadhafi's four-decade grip on power, according to a former regime member.
"We asked for help when he was on the ropes," Libya's ex-minister of immigration Ali Errishi, who resigned shortly after the uprising began nearly three weeks ago, told CNN's "State of the Union."
"I said, you give us little help now. It was just a little nudge," when what was needed was greater US military support at the height of the chaos when several key Kadhafi loyalists and military figures abandoned the regime, Errishi said.
"They were dragging their feet, I don't know why," said Errishi.
He also stressed he had "no doubt" that Kadhafi would refuse to negotiate terms for his own departure.
"This is a man who has shown that there's only one choice for Libyan people: either I rule you or I kill you."
Rebels have taken control of much of Libya's eastern half, but Kadhafi's well-armed forces have gone on the counter-attack against rag-tag groups of rebels who are often armed only with AK-47 assault rifles.
Obama's 2008 rival for the presidency, Republican US Senator John McCain, reiterated his call for a no-fly zone Sunday, saying it would "send a signal to Kadhafi" that Obama was serious in his call for the Libyan leader to step down.
"We can't risk allowing Kadhafi to massacre people from the air," he told ABC's "This Week."
Like Kerry, McCain backed off from direct military engagement but said "there's a lot we could do, including intelligence capability and giving them technical assistance."
© AFP -- Published at Activist Post with license