|© AFP/File Marwan Naamani|
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Senator John McCain urged the United States on Sunday to step up its involvement in NATO air strikes on Libya, warning that a stalemate would likely draw Al-Qaeda into the conflict.
Speaking from Cairo fresh from a visit to the Libyan stronghold of Benghazi, McCain welcomed President Barack Obama's authorization of Predator drones but urged him to recommit crucial American fighter planes as well.
"The longer we delay, the more likely it is there's a stalemate," he told NBC's "Meet the Press". "And if you're worried about Al-Qaeda entering into this fight, nothing would bring Al-Qaeda in more rapidly and more dangerously than a stalemate."
At the start of the popular uprising threatening his four-decade rule, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi accused the rebels of being stooges of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
This theory was discredited by the West, but top NATO commander and US Admiral James Stavridis did say last month he had seen "flickers in the intelligence of potential Al-Qaeda" and Hezbollah, Lebanon's Shiite Muslim militia, amongst the rebels.
The raising of the specter of Al-Qaeda by McCain comes as Obama faces increasing pressure to do something to prevent the conflict in Libya from drifting into an aimless stalemate.
There has been little further sign of the regime crumbling since the defection almost four weeks ago of then Libyan foreign minister Mussa Kussa, one of Kadhafi's closest confidants.
McCain opposes putting American troops on the ground but said he doubts the rebels can succeed in toppling Kadhafi unless the United States redeploys its ground-attack aircraft that have unique close-air support capabilities.
"By taking US leadership out of it and US air assets out of it, we've really reduced our ability to prevail on the battlefield. We need the AC-130s and A-10s back in. We need the American air assets back in, in a heavier way," the senator told CNN's "State of the Union."
Senator Lindsey Graham -- who like McCain is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- told CNN's Sunday program that his advice to NATO and the White House is "to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Kadhafi's inner circle."
But McCain warned that such a strategy is "a little harder than you think it is" and carries the risk of civilian casualties in Tripoli. Instead, he called for arming and training the rebels.
In his interview with NBC, McCain went as far as to question whether NATO, aided by a clutch of Arab Gulf allies, had either the capacity or the political will to see the mission through.
"It's pretty obvious to me that the US has got to play a greater role on the air power side," he said. "Our NATO allies neither have the assets, nor frankly the will -- there's only six countries of the 28 in NATO that are actively engaged in this situation."
Washington coordinated operations in the first days of the allied intervention after the UN Security Council approved "all necessary means" to prevent Kadhafi from launching an all-out assault on Benghazi.
It transferred command to the NATO alliance earlier this month, leaving the Pentagon primarily providing refueling and surveillance aircraft.
Obama on Thursday authorized the use of unmanned Predator drone aircraft -- which can pinpoint and strike specific targets from lower altitudes -- and the US carried out its first drone strikes in Libya on Saturday.
He told Americans in a nationally televised March 28 address that a "massacre" had been averted and bluntly warned that although Kadhafi must go, making regime change the military mission risked splintering the coalition and leading to another Iraq.
On Friday during his visit to Benghazi, McCain urged the international community to arm and recognize the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) as the "legitimate voice" of the Libyan people.
France, Gambia, Italy and Qatar are the only countries so far to have recognized the TNC, Libya's parallel government in the east.
McCain, the losing Republican presidential candidate in 2008, also called for strikes on the Libyan regime's television network.
"It would be very helpful if we took out Kadhafi's television," he said. "When the Libyan people see Kadhafi on television, it scares them."
© AFP -- Published at Activist Post with license