US watches Libya amid decisive Tripoli battle

VINEYARD HAVEN, Massachusetts, Aug 21, 2011 (AFP) - The United States closely monitored the events in Libya Sunday, staying in close contact with rebels appearing to make a decisive surge to oust strongman Moamer Kadhafi in Tripoli.

President Barack Obama, who received a briefing from senior national security staffer John Brennan during his seaside vacation, told reporters late Sunday he was awaiting clear news from the battle raging in the Libyan capital.

Asked about the events, the US leader said, "We're going to wait until we have full confirmation of what has happened... I'll make a statement when we do."

The US State Department said meanwhile that the "offensive for Tripoli is underway" as rebel lines captured key parts of the Libyan capital, and added that US officials were in "close communication" with the rebel alliance.

The US administration was "closely monitoring the situation in Libya," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in a statement.

Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "are being briefed regularly, and we are in close communication with the TNC (Transitional National Council), our allies and partners," she said.

"Clearly the offensive for Tripoli is underway," and if Kadhafi "cared about the welfare of the Libyan people, he would step down now," she added.

She noted that Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman had been in Benghazi for meetings rebel leaders, which underscores US efforts to help the rebels plan for a post-Kadhafi Libya.

The White House predicted earlier that Kadhafi would soon be gone.

"We believe that Kadhafi's days are numbered, and that the Libyan people deserve a just, democratic and peaceful future," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, repeating a line frequently used by the administration throughout the Libya crisis.

Republican Senator John McCain meanwhile said he believed Kadhafi's four decades-long rule could be over within "hours if not days" but said that the Obama administration could have hastened his demise with direct US airpower.

"I believe that it's nearing the end," McCain said on CBS show "Face the Nation."

"It's going to be a big challenge forming a new government, uniting a country that has never known democracy.

"I grieve a bit because this conflict didn't have to last this long. The United States air power could have shortened this conflict dramatically. And unfortunately we chose not to. We led from behind."

Obama committed heavy US firepower to the Libya conflict in the early days, but then handed over responsibility for front line military action to US allies in NATO, though Washington retains a large support role in the mission.

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