The State Department on Wednesday declined to describe the raging conflict in Libya as a civil war, after a key lawmaker used the term to characterize the ongoing battle between rebels and forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi.
"I would just say that what we have is a leader who used not just arms but heavy weaponry against his people and is now in a situation where he's lost all legitimacy," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, when asked whether the fighting had escalated into a civil war.
Toner said he could not give a "clear answer" on that question, and repeated the Obama administration's call for Qaddafi to step down and put an end to the "bloodshed."
Toner also stressed that the United States is not acting alone, as NATO allies weigh whether to impose a no-fly zone over the country.
The Pentagon stressed Wednesday that the no-fly zone option is still on the table. But Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Tuesday that such an action would have far-ranging consequences and could strain U.S. resources given the nature of the fighting in Libya.
"This is now a civil war," Lugar said. "Intervening in such conflicts is fraught with unknowns and unintended consequences."