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As conflict wears on, Norway pulls F-16s from Libya

Norway has brought home its last four F-16s that had continued to participate in the NATO intervention in Libya -- down from the original six -- as the war the world forgot continues to drag on with no end in sight. But even though Norway has decided it's done, the same can't be said for Libya's western rebel alliance, which has apparently been chasing its tail even as it has tried to continue its war against the regime of strongman Moammar Qaddafi. One of the rebels' top leaders, Abdel-Fattah Younis, was killed last month under mysterious circumstances, and as NPR superstar Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, the rebels continue to struggle in combat with government forces.

In a story Tuesday, she described the dysfunctional, "Mad Max" war of a group of rebels holed up in the mountains:

For months the rebels there were essentially cut off. Qaddafi's troops had these mountains surrounded, and the rebels had to fight with whatever was on hand. And there wasn't much: ancient World War II rifles, some Kalashnikov guns, but everything else had to be scavenged.

But as the rebels pushed Qaddafi's forces back, they were able to raid his weapons storehouses. Some turned up surprising items like U.S. Navy practice rounds, provenance unknown. The rebels have been using them in the fighting, not realizing that they are simply duds. Some of the heaviest fighting in the war is taking place in the mountains, and there aren't enough guns to go around. At one rebel lookout on the edge of a mountain cliff, the fighters only had four tank rounds for their tank. Had they known, Qaddafi's fighters stationed nearby could have attacked at any time, and there was no way the rebels could have been resupplied.

To supplement their arsenal, the rebels have become creative. One fighter made a rocket launcher from an old barbecue, with long tubes for firing projectiles positioned on top of what had been the grill. It looks like you could cook meat in the back blast of the rocket fire.

After the crisis Washington just averted with the debt ceiling agreement that everyone hates, it seems surreal to remember that one of the big battles that preceded it was between House Republicans and President Obama over his authority to involve the U.S. in the Libya intervention. At the time, opponents wanted a constitutional battle over the War Powers Resolution, but then everyone just stopped caring. So U.S. involvement continues, although it consists mostly of aerial refueling support, Predator orbits and the occasional missions to suppress enemy air defenses. With members of Congress eager to get out of dodge for their monthlong vacation, Libya will likely stay forgotten unless something major happens.

From the White House's perspective, that's probably ideal: Obama's perfect endgame would be for everyone to be focused on shark attacks, or a celebrity trial, or some other summertime cable news distraction and then for the Libyan rebels to unseat Qaddafi and begin the transition to a democratic government. The president gets the world's full attention, he can say, 'told you we didn't need to take this guy out ourselves or put troops on the ground,' and he can make a big deal of ordering an end to the U.S. involvement. The problem, as it has been from the start, is that so much of the situation is out of American control -- Obama must rely on guys like this to win the day.



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