US defense secretary stresses removing Libyan leader not part of coalition's mission; Mullen dispels belief Gaddafi near "breaking point."
By REUTERSLibyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will likely be removed from power over time by his own people, as a result of political and economic measures, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.But Gates, in prepared remarks to Congress, stressed that removing Gaddafi was "not part of the military mission" by coalition forces acting under a UN Security Council mandate.RELATED:Libyan foreign minister quits gov't, arrives in BritainUAE and Qatar pack an Arab punch in Libya operationGaddafi forces sow landmines in east LibyaUS Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen also addressed Congress saying that Gaddafi is not close to a military breaking point even though coalition strikes have seriously degraded his fighting power."We have actually fairly seriously degraded his military capabilities. ... We've attrited his overall forces at about the 20- to 25-percent level," Admiral Mike Mullen told lawmakers."That does not mean he's about to break from a military standpoint, because that's not the case."The comments came a day after revelations that US President Barack Obama signed a secret order authorizing covert US government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Gaddafi.AdvertisementObama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, according to four US government sources familiar with the matter.Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and the White House declined immediate comment.News that Obama had given the authorization surfaced as the President and other US and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi's opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.On Tuesday, Obama followed the same line as Gates, saying that the objective of a US and allied campaign is to apply steady pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi so that he will "ultimately step down" from power.In an NBC News interview, Obama said military pressure and international sanctions have "greatly weakened" Gaddafi. "He does not have control over most of Libya at this point," Obama said.Meanwhile, the UK government on Thursday reported that about 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.In a quarterly update on human rights in Libya covering the period since an uprising began against Gaddafi's rule, Britain's Foreign Office said it was appalled by reports of serious human rights violations during the conflict."Whilst there has been no official death toll, several sources report that approximately 1,000 people have already been killed and many more have been injured during the recent violence," it said
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