WASHINGTON — On March 19, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's army had quashed weeks of anti-government protests and was poised for an all-out assault on Benghazi, the opposition's stronghold, when the U.N. Security Council authorized coalition forces to step in and protect civilians.
Two months and nearly 7,000 air sorties later, the international military campaign has stopped a potentially devastating massacre in Benghazi, allowed humanitarian aid into besieged civilian areas, and helped the rebels keep their hold on eastern Libya.
But Gadhafi, hunkered down in his heavily fortified bastion in the western capital, Tripoli, betrays no sign of ceding power. His loyalists, though weakened, continue to bombard the opposition's scattered outposts in the west.
When the United States and its European and Arab allies launched the air war, President Obama said that U.S. forces would carry out "a limited military action... to protect Libyan civilians." Today that military effort continues under NATO command, but with no coalition nation willing to commit ground forces or substantially more firepower, there's no clear end in sight.
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Some members of Congress say that the war has become a stalemate, but the Obama administration maintains that the intervention has worked. White House officials say that it's bought the inexperienced Libyan opposition time to get organized while the United States and its allies weigh how much more direct support to offer.
"I think it's important to recall how much has been accomplished in less than two months, in preventing a humanitarian catastrophe, in rallying a remarkable political and military coalition, in mobilizing pressure on the Gadhafi regime and working with emerging democratic forces in Libya," Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.