Obama tells Congress: Our main military action against Qaddafi will last "days, not weeks"

What could go wrong?

In his meeting with Members of Congress today, sources tell ABC News, President Obama said he expected that the period that the US would be involved in heavy kinetic activity would be “days, not weeks,” after which he said the US would then take more of a supporting role.

So that close reading of his speech earlier wasn’t too close after all. In order to get U.S. fingerprints off of this mission and reassure the public that it won’t be another endless adventure, he’ll let European and Arab air forces enforce the NFZ after we take out Qaddafi’s air defenses. A question: What happens if the war on the ground drags on and the Brits, French, etc, decide it’s not worth persevering? Will the USAF then return to “heavy kinetic activity” or is that the end of the mission?

More details from WaPo, which calls this a rare example of international action not led by the United States:

Fighter aircraft from France, Britain and the United Arab Emirates converged on bases in and around Italy late Friday to begin operations over Libya under the command and control of the United States at its naval base in Naples, according to U.S. and European officials.

U.S. ships in the Mediterranean were preparing to bombard Libya’s air defenses and runways to clear the way for the European and Arab forces to establish a no-fly zone throughout the country, assuming that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi does not obey international demands for a cease-fire and withdrawal of his forces around rebel-held areas, officials said.

Here’s Susan Rice on CNN this afternoon clarifying a point left ambiguous in Obama’s speech. Yes, she says, Qaddafi must go (and hints that we may be willing to arm the rebels to make that happen). But when Blitzer presses her on whether that means we’ll launch attacks aimed at dislodging him, she says … no. The resolution authorizes protecting civilians, not bombing Qaddafi to get rid of him. And when he follows up and asks what happens if Qaddafi suddenly backs off and decides to respect the terms of the UN’s ultimatum, she won’t say what we’ll do. Again, what could go wrong?

By the way, I know the White House is a few weeks behind the rest of us on all this, but in case anyone there is reading: Hurry up.

Update: U.S. counterterror chiefs are watching Libya very carefully: “Among the threats the United States is focusing on is Libya’s stockpile of deadly mustard gas, he said.”

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