Video: High-profile defections put pressure on Gadhafi

  1. Closed captioning of: High-profile defections put pressure on Gadhafi

    >>> good evening. it is the third front americans are fighting tonight, and tonight the libya story is on the move. there have been some important developments during the day today. first, reports of some sort of a deal possibly in the works to get gadhafi out of there, but his army is still fighting hard, still not letting those rebels advance. despite the u.s. having fired off 227 cruise missiles and flying all those countless air missions. and tonight with nato now in charge of the fight, the air war , the no-fly zone, the u.s. has announced it will no longer fly combat air missions over libya starting tomorrow. we want to begin tonight with nbc's jim maceda who remains inside tripoli for us. jim , good evening.

    >> reporter: hi, brian. even as moammar gadhafi 's forces gain the upper hand against the rebels on the battlefield, his regime is beginning to show signs of collapse from within. these rebels have come full circle . their drive towards tripoli began here in ajdabiya a week ago but they have been driven all the way back to where they started. outgunned and outsoldiered they still dream of taking sirte, gadhafi 's hometown, hundreds of miles away . i tell you by 6:00 p.m . we'll be in sirte, says this rebel, but not tonight. instead the opposition's governing council offered a cease-fire if gadhafi stepped down and pulled his forces back from all of libya 's cities. gadhafi , who hasn't been seen in ten days, rejected the cease-fire terms. still, political pressure on the regime is mounting. today another high-profile defection rocked tripoli . libya 's new u.n. ambassador quit, saying too much blood had been spilled in libya . that on the heels of moussa koussa's defection, gadhafi 's foreign minister and key adviser who is now in great britain being debriefed by british intelligence . and even members of gadhafi 's family, including his son, may be seeking a way out as well. publicly defiant as in this recent interview with nbc news --

    >> this is our country. we live here and we die here.

    >> reporter: but british media speak of secret meetings in london between his top aide and british officials. and just how spooked is gadhafi about a possible flood of defections? well, the government has now assigned security guards to shadow each and every major government official just in case. brian.

    >> jim maceda inside tripoli . jim , thanks for your reporting tonight.

msnbc.com news services
updated 4/1/2011 8:11:21 AM ET 2011-04-01T12:11:21

The Pentagon is about to pull its attack planes out of the international air campaign in Libya, hoping NATO partners can take up the slack.

The announcement Thursday drew incredulous reactions from some in Congress who wondered aloud why the Obama administration would bow out of a key element of the strategy for protecting Libyan civilians and crippling Moammar Gadhafi's army.

"Odd," "troubling" and "unnerving" were among critical comments by senators pressing for an explanation of the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that American combat missions will end Saturday.

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"Your timing is exquisite," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said sarcastically, alluding to Gadhafi's military advances this week.

Gates and Mullen, in back-to-back appearances before the House and Senate armed services committees, also forcefully argued against putting the U.S. in the role of arming or training Libyan rebel forces, while suggesting it might be a job for Arab or other countries.

The White House has said repeatedly that it has not ruled out arming the rebels, who have retreated pell-mell this week under the pressure of a renewed eastern offensive by Gadhafi's better-armed and better-trained ground troops.

"My view would be, if there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States," Gates said.

Video: Rebels dig in as Libya regime shows cracks

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said he saw no contradiction between Gates' remarks and President Barack Obama's statement that "he has not ruled it in or out."

As yet, none of Obama's top advisers have publicly advocated a significant expansion of the U.S. role aiding the opposition.

Gates and Mullen were early skeptics of getting involved militarily in Libya, and Gates made clear Thursday that he still worries about the possibility of getting drawn into an open-ended and costly commitment.

That explains in part his view that if the rebels are to receive foreign arms, that task — and the training that would necessarily go with it — should not be done by Americans.

'Unfortunate' timing
Gates said no one should be surprised by the U.S. combat air pullback, but he called the timing "unfortunate" in light of Gadhafi's battlefield gains.

He noted that the air attacks are a central feature of the overall military strategy; over time they could degrade Gadhafi's firepower to a point that he would be unable to put down a renewed uprising by opposition forces, he said.

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Mullen and Gates stressed that even though powerful combat aircraft like the side-firing AC-130 gunship and the A-10 Thunderbolt, used for close air support of friendly ground forces, will stop flying after Saturday, they will be on standby.

Mullen said this means that if the rebels' situation become "dire enough," NATO's top commander could request help from the U.S. aircraft. The U.S. also has used Marine AV-8B Harrier attack jets as well as Air Force F-15 fighters and B-2 and B-1 long-range bombers.

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

As of Sunday, France, Britain and other NATO countries will handle the task of conducting airstrikes on Libyan military targets, Mullen said.

The remaining U.S. role will be support missions such as aerial refueling, search and rescue, and aerial reconnaissance.

It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. would continue attacks with Tomahawk cruise missiles, which have been fired regularly from Navy ships and submarines in the Mediterranean from the opening moments of the campaign on March 19.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested the pullback might jeopardize congressional support for the Libya mission.

"The idea that the AC-130s and the A-10s and American air power is grounded unless the place goes to hell is just so unnerving that I can't express it adequately," Graham said. "The only thing I would ask is, please reconsider that."

Asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., whether he was confident that NATO could sustain airstrikes alone, Gates replied, "They certainly have made that commitment, and we will see."

Many lawmakers were angered by what they said was the administration's lack of candor with Congress ahead of the Libya mission.

Several complained that the mission is expensive and ill-defined. Gates defended it, asserting that a potential humanitarian disaster was averted when the U.S.-led intervention stopped Gadhafi's forces as they closed in on Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital in eastern Libya.

Gadhafi's forces initially were driven back, but they have since regained their lost ground.

Mullen revealed that a major factor in Gadhafi's ability to drive back the rebels — essentially eliminating the territorial gains they had made last week with the help of international airstrikes — was bad weather. He said it grounded most combat missions earlier this week.

Obama had made clear that once U.S. air power silenced Gadhafi's air defenses, permitting the establishment of a no-fly zone over the North African country, the U.S. would reduce its role and let NATO take the lead.

On Thursday, NATO assumed control of all aspects of the international campaign — including enforcing the no-fly zone and attacking Gadhafi's military.

Slideshow: Moammar Gadhafi through the years (on this page)

The U.S. now finds itself in the unusual position of a back-seat partner in the Libya operation, with no clear path to empowering the rebels.

A retired Army general, James Dubick, wrote Thursday in a war commentary that a necessary next step is to place NATO combat air controllers on the ground — to include Americans — to precisely direct air power. Trainers also are needed, he wrote.

"Right now, they (the rebels) are more like 'guys with guns' than an organized force and they need help," Dubick wrote. He is a former commander of U.S. training mission in Iraq and is now a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank.

Mullen said Gadhafi's army had lost as much as 25 percent of its firepower, although his ground forces still outnumber the rebels by about 10-to-1.

Meanwhile, Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said the crisis in Libya could not be resolved militarily, during a visit to Beijing Friday.

Germany broke ranks with the U.S., France and Britain and joined China, Russia, India and Brazil in abstaining on a United Nations vote authorizing the use of force to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians.

"The Libyan situation cannot be resolved by military means," Westerwelle told reporters after meeting his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, according to a pool report.

"There can only be a political resolution and we must get the political process under way. That should begin with a ceasefire that Gadhafi must heed to allow the peace process to begin," he said.

Westerwelle said at an EU foreign ministers' meeting last month that Arab League criticism of the airstrikes had vindicated Germany's reluctance to back the action.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
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    Above: Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
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    Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years

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