Coalition Meets in London As Fiercest Battle Fought in Qaddafi’s Hometown

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Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton is in London today to take part in a 40-nation summit to figure out how to better implement the no-fly zone and shape the notion of what a post-Qaddafi era will look like in Libya. But on the ground, the conflict is far from decided. Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi are resisting rebel advances in Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown. Al Jazeera is calling it the fiercest clash since the opposition advanced westward on Friday, capturing oil towns under cover of international coalition strikes. Qaddafi's forces have been shelling the rebels' front lines, 100 kilometers outside Sirte, with missile fire. The opposition, which is relying on low munitions and "old Russian weapons," is having trouble fighting them off. When asked whether the U.S. had ruled out arming the rebels to fight Qaddafi, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice told Good Morning America, "We have not made that decision, but we've not certainly ruled that out."

Rice's comments on arming rebels contradict a statement by NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Yesterday he told CNN that "the U.N. mandate authorizes the enforcement of an arms embargo," adding, "We are not in Libya to arm people, but to protect people."

Today's meeting in London is slated to discuss strengthening the coalition, coordinating humanitarian aid, and formally recognizing the opposition's Council, led by Mahmood Jibril. (He and Clinton have met twice in the past week.) But the summit also follows an American military assessment showing that insurgent advances would be reversed without continued air strikes. In Qaddafi's hometown, for example, without coalition air strikes, the rebels have not been able to bring Sirte under their control as easily as they had other cities. Americans are still discussing the possibility of armed support.

In his speech last night, President Obama cited the cost-efficiency of the conflict in Libya. Thus far, the Pentagon has estimated the U.S. cost of the military coalition to at least $600 million in six days. That covers 191 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 455 precision-guided bombs, the downed Air Force F-15E fighter jet, and fuel for war crafts.

Libyan rebels facing tough fight for Sirte [Al Jazeera English]
Libya crisis: live updates [Guardian UK]
As Diplomats Meet in London on Libya, Rebel Advance Stalls [NYT]
Allies Meet as Libyan Rebels Move on Gadhafi Hometown [WSJ]
Clinton Meets Libyan Opposition Leader [WSJ]
Cost of Libya Intervention $600 Million for First Week, Pentagon Says [ABC News]