The U.S. is stepping up its campaign to stop the violence in Libya. In the most blunt statement from the White House during the waves of unrest, Hillary Clinton today called for Muammar Qaddafi to surrender power, saying, “It is time for Qaddafi to go, now, without further violence or delay.” Clinton also offered the rebels “any type of assistance.” It looks like they might need it. According to witnesses and rebel army commanders, Qaddafi’s forces launched fresh attacks on coastal cities, including jet-bombing a military base outside Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city and a stronghold of the opposition. The military also tried to attack a radio station in Mistra, another opposition-controlled city. But protesters used gunfire to keep a helicopter with soldiers on board from landing.
Colonel Tareq Saad Hussein, one of the many military leaders who switched sides after Qaddafi ordered his army to fire on civilians, used rebel anti-aircraft weapons to force the plane attacking the base to retreat. Hussein, who is running defense operations in Benghazi, told The Wall Street Journal, “I’m expecting another attack with bigger numbers of aircraft, but don’t worry, everything is under control.” Rebel commanders were using the radio station in Mistra to coordinate defensive patrols and organize basic services.
At a news conference in Tripoli, a government spokesman denied that Qaddafi loyalists were attacking civilians, comparing it to Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. “The Islamists want chaos; the West also wants chaos,” said Musa Ibrahim, adding, “We are not like Egypt or Tunisia. We are a very Bedouin tribal society. People know that and want gradual change.” Guess he hasn’t been communicating with citizens east of Tripoli in a while.
Press Secretary Jay Carney elaborated on Clinton’s statement, saying that “exile is certainly one option” for Qaddafi, and that the U.S. is considering a no-fly zone over Libya.
Update: The U.S. Treasury just announced that it will freeze $30 billion in Libyan assets, calling it “the largest blocking under any sanctions program ever.” The action was taken under an executive order issued by President Obama on Friday and covers assets belonging to Qaddafi and his family members, as well as “government figures and entities under their control.” Clinton said the actions were being calibrated to ensure that ordinary civilians would not be harmed. The U.S. Agency for International Development has set aside $10 million in relief funds and is dispatching teams of experts to determine the refugee crisis and figure out how to deliver the aid. [WP]