Barack Obama has repeatedly insisted that the American role in the Libyan war will only last “days, not weeks,” although he has also said that US forces will remain engaged, and that the purpose of the operation is to “install a democratic system” while somehow not aiming at the removal of the dictator at the top.  Got all that?  Neither has Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who now insists that the Obama administration has “no timeline” for the end of operations in Libya, and he’s not sure how it will all end, either:

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday there was no “timeline” for when UN-backed military operations in Libya would end, and that the outcome of the conflict remained unclear.

Speaking during a visit to Cairo, Gates said the UN Security Council resolution that authorised a no-fly zone was “not time-limited” and that it was unrealistic to expect military action to be over in a matter of weeks.

“So I think that there is no current timeline in terms of when it might end,” Gates told reporters. …

Gates said the outcome of the conflict remained unclear, and that it was possible that more figures in Kadhafi’s regime could turn against him or even members of his own family.

“I think there are any number of possible outcomes here and no one is in a position to predict them,” he said.

Gates may be speaking more generally about the overall coalition, but let’s face it: Obama can’t afford for this mission to go south now.   He’s put himself on the hot spot by bypassing Congress, and if the UN coalition fails to prevent a genocide in Benghazi, Obama will take all of the blame for it, especially if he pulls the US out of the fight.  Obama may cede operational command to another NATO member, but US forces will have to continue to take part in the operation.

Gates also acknowledged that the strikes came after much of the rebellion had fizzled out in the face of a brutal crackdown by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.  He hopes that the UN bombing will encourage more defiance, but no one’s sure whether that is actually happening.  In fact, no one is sure of much of anything, including the nature of the rebellion, as Rolling Stone reported on Monday:

America is now at war to protect a Libyan province that’s been an epicenter of anti-American jihad.

In recent years, at mosques throughout eastern Libya, radical imams have been “urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere,” according to WikiLeaked cables. More troubling: The city of Derna, east of Benghazi, was a “wellspring” of suicide bombers that targeted U.S. troops in Iraq. …

West Point analysis of a cache of al Qaeda records discovered that nearly 20 percent of foreign fighters in Iraq were Libyans, and that on a per-capita basis Libya nearly doubled Saudi Arabia as the top source of foreign fighters.

The word “fighter” here is misleading. For the most part, Libyans didn’t go to Iraq to fight; they went to blow themselves up — along with American G.I.’s. (Among those whose “work” was detailed in the al Qaeda records, 85 percent of the Libyans were listed as suicide bombers.) Overwhelmingly, these militants came “from cities in North‐East Libya, an area long known for Jihadi‐linked militancy.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that the organization that recruited these jihadists are today expressing support for the rebellion:

A senior member of al Qaida urged Libyan rebels to continue their fight againstMuammar Gaddafi and warned of the consequences of defeat, in a videotaped message posted on Jihadi websites, the Qatar-based Gulf News reported on Sunday.

The message from Libya native, Abu Yahya al-Libi, marked the first time a top ranked al Qaida commander had commented on the uprising in Libya. Gaddafi has repeatedly blamed al Qaida for inciting the unrest against him.

AQ’s expressions of support are not solid evidence of, well, much of anything.  They usually like to put spin on any event to make themselves look more relevant, and there isn’t any reason to believe their propaganda here and now.  However, thus far we know very little about the nature of the rebels we seek to protect, and also thus far neither Obama nor any other leader within this coalition has bothered to try to explain their purpose.  That West Point analysis certainly gives us some reason for skepticism about the nature of this rebellion.

In response to the murky nature of this fight and the manner in which Obama started it, the House will soon schedule hearings on the use of force, according to The Hill’s sources in Congress:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is planning a hearing next week on the U.S. intervention in Libya, the first formal congressional inquiry into the five-day-old military campaign.

A senior committee aide told The Hill on Wednesday that Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) was eyeing a hearing when Congress returns from recess. The hearing “is still in the planning stages,” the aide said.

The inquiry comes amid complaints from lawmakers in both parties about the extent of consultation by the Obama administration with Congress about a military operation. The White House held one official briefing for congressional leaders on Friday, before airstrikes began and before President Obama left on an overseas trip, and a group of committee aides received a classified briefing on Tuesday at the Capitol.

Requests for additional briefings for members have thus far been ignored, the aide said.

Stonewalling Congress is an odd strategy for someone who promised to bring new transparency to Washington.  Then again, they may be ignoring these requests because the administration may have no idea what’s going on.  Better to look secretive than to be exposed as ignorant, I suppose, but neither will help win Congressional support for this botched effort to flex American muscle.