President Obama said Friday that while there is a "stalemate" on the ground in Libya, he still expects the three-week-old air campaign to succeed in eventually ousting Moammar Qaddafi.
"You now have a stalemate on the ground militarily, but Qaddafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways," Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press. "He's running out of money. He is running out of supplies. The noose is tightening, and he is becoming more and more isolated. And my expectation is, is that if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which NATO is doing very capably, then I think over the long term, Qaddafi will go and we will be successful."
The president's acknowledgment comes as Qaddafi forces continue to hammer the town of Misurata, the Libyan rebel's only stronghold in the west, under siege for six weeks, and as NATO allies indicate their desire for the U.S. to resume a lead role in the coalition's air strikes. The president signaled today that America's role will remain unchanged.
"I'm actually very impressed with the performance of NATO so far," said Obama. "And I'm very pleased that we've been able to do exactly what we said we were going to do, which is transition so that we are primarily in a support role."
Mr. Obama credits the U.S. and NATO efforts for having averted a "wholesale slaughter" of Libyan civilians and insists he never expected that, as a consequence of the air campaign, Qaddafi would be gone.
"In the absence of actual soldiers on the ground, Qaddafi's forces are still going to be able to at least defend their current positions," the president conceded, but still reiterated the U.S. would not expand its military role in Libya.
"I don't think it's necessary at this point. At this point, we've gotten good participation from our coalition partners. They are doing exactly what they promised they would do. They are still striking at Qaddafi targets," the president told AP, "And what we're doing is we're still providing jamming capacity, intelligence, refueling."
On Afghanistan -- another NATO mission -- where the United States provides most of the forces -- 100,000 troops -- the commander-in-chief today said that while he still awaits on an assessment from General David Petraeus, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the president anticipates a "significant" drawdown this July, when the goal of transferring responsibility to the Afghan forces is hoped to be achieved.
"I'm confident that the withdrawal will be significant," said Obama. "People will say this is a real process of transition; this is not just a token gesture."
Mr. Obama wouldn't give exact numbers and reiterated that any withdrawal would be conditions-based. "We are confident, though, that we've been able to lift up a Afghan security force that is getting better, more professional, larger; a transition has begun so that they can start taking over protection against the Taliban in certain areas."