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United States gives Libyan rebels $25 million

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President Barack Obama of the United States plans to provide rebels in Libya with up to $25 million in urgent, non-lethal aid, a senior US diplomat told lawmakers in a letter obtained by AFP on Wednesday.

“I wish to inform you that the president intends to exercise his authority to draw down up to $25 million in commodities and services from the inventory and resources of any agency of the United States government,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Joseph MacManus wrote in a letter to US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“The president’s proposed actions would provide urgently needed non-lethal assistance to support efforts to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack in Libya,” said Mr. MacManus.

President Obama said that while he supports the decision by allies to send military advisers to aid Libyan rebels, he has no plans to put US “boots on the ground,” his spokesman said on Wednesday.

A memorandum attached to the letter said the aid could include vehicles, fuel trucks, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and radios.

Earlier this month, the Washington-based Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) estimated that the cost of military strikes in Libya is likely to exceed $100 million per day, putting the American Department of Defense on the edge, tip-toeing not to ask for an emergency funding to cover its troops in the North African country.

Meanwhile, the head of Libya’s National Transitional Council told French TV on Wednesday that rebels fighting Muammar Qaddafi’s rule acquired weapons either by buying them with “Libyan money” or were supplied by “some friends.”

Despite the US, United Nations and European Union sanctions imposed on Libya’s beleaguered government since March, the Qaddafi forces have found loopholes to import gasoline for use in military campaigns against the rebels.

Reuters reported that oil trading and shipping sources with inside information said that so far at least 120,000 tons of gasoline had arrived this month at La Skhira in Tunisia for ship-to-ship transfers to Libya, a figure that amounts to nearly half of Tunisia's annual imports.

France promised Libyan rebels on Wednesday that it would intensify air strikes on Colonel Qaddafi’s forces and send military liaison officers to help them as fighting raged in the besieged city of Misrata. Similarly, British “advisors” are expected to join the rebels.

For many observers, sending “advisors” to Libya was hauntingly reminiscent of the United States dispatching military advisors to assist the corrupt South Vietnamese regime in the 1960s during the president of John F. Kennedy. Under Mr. Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, more than 500,000 came to be stationed in South Vietnam, with a loss of nearly 50,000 of Americans before the US pulled out in 1975. The Communist regime of North Vietnam easily took over South Vietnam, and Vietnam became a unified country since then.

The $25 million that President Obama has pledged to the Libyan rebels is a relatively modest amount, and it is probably drawn from a variety of budgets that can be accessed by the Executive Branch of the US government. The money is unlikely to invite questions about how the US can afford to give it to the Libyans at a time that it is experiencing budgetary and trade deficits.

Standard and Poor’s rating agency downgraded US debt from stable to negative on Tuesday sent shivers to the rest of the world, making gold hit a psychological mark and new a record of $1,500 per ounce.

On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund said that the US lacks a credible medium-term plan to reduce budget deficits.

The chief economist at IMF told Le Monde that the debate between the Republicans and Democrats, which ended on April 8 with a plan to save $39 billion (27 billion euros) “was not enough.”

(Dina Al-Shibeeb of Al Arabiya can be reached at: dina.ibrahim@mbc.net)