NATO has assumed full command of all air operations over Libya, taking over from the U.S., which had played a leading role since international forces began enforcing a no-fly zone on March 19.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transition was completed early Thursday. The NATO operation, called “Unified Protector”, includes enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolution that mandates the no-fly zone along with an arms embargo and airstrikes to protect civilians.
Meanwhile, U.S. media reports say the CIA has sent teams of operatives into Libya to gather intelligence and make contact with anti-Gadhafi forces. The reports cite officials as saying intelligence agents are looking into the identities and abilities of rebel forces before foreign allies consider providing them with direct military aid.
British sources told The New York Times that British special forces and intelligence officers also are in the North African nation.
In Washington, the White House repeated that the U.S. has not made a decision on whether to provide arms to rebel forces in Libya. Wednesday’s statement was issued amid reports that President Barack Obama has approved a secret authorization for covert efforts to support anti-government rebels.
Earlier Wednesday, troops loyal to Gadhafi drove anti-government rebels from key coastal cities they had seized days before, reversing opposition gains made since international airstrikes began.
Libyan rebels retreated amid intense fighting around the strategic oil towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega. Many opposition fighters fell back to the city of Ajdabiya, from where residents were seen fleeing along the road toward the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.
Pro-Gadhafi forces were shelling Brega and a rebel military spokesman said he expected the loyalists to enter the city by Wednesday night.
The spokesman Colonel Ahmad Bani also said as many as 3,600 heavily armed members of the Chadian Republican Guard are now fighting alongside Gadhafi loyalists. He dismissed concerns that members of al-Qaida are fighting with the Libyan rebels.