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Libya Fades From View Under Debt Spotlight

 

As Washington focuses on debt and deficit negotiations, questions about the U.S.-led NATO mission in Libya have faded into the background, even as the images coming from North Africa paint a foreboding picture.

If there is one image that epitomizes the ongoing NATO mission in Libya, it is the video broadcast on Libya's state television Tueday of the Pan Am Lockerbie bomber rallying support for Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in downtown Tripoli.

Abdel Bassett Maghrehi was released on compassionate grounds by a Scottish judge two years ago. He was supposed to be dying of cancer but he is still standing -- as is Muammar al-Qaddafi -- four months after the start of an operation the White House said would be brief.

“This operation will be days and not weeks,” President Obama said in a speech on March 22 at the start of the military mission.

It's no longer costly American Tomahawk missiles being used to protect the Libyans from the dictator, but the cost for the mission continues to skyrocket, with the U.S. taxpayer paying 75 percent of NATO's operating costs.

“We know it's costing us between $2 and $3 million a day now,” Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Fox News. “We probably spent over a billion dollars there -- or close to it -- and I have no idea where the end is.”

Here’s how the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs describes the NATO actions in Libya. “We are generally in a stalemate,” Admiral Mike Mullen said at the Foreign Press Center on Monday.

Since March 31, NATO has carried out more than 16,000 air sorties and has employed 17 ships to enforce an arms embargo, hailing nearly 2000 vessels, while boarding about 200.

On Wednesday, Britain became the third NATO country, after the U.S. and France, to recognize the Libyan rebels, known as the National Transitional Council.

"The Prime Minister and I have decided that the United Kingdom recognizes and will deal with the National Transitional Council as the sole governmental authority in Libya," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a press conference Wednesday in London. He added that the British government would unfreeze $150 million in Libyan assets for use by the Council, or rebels. He also announced that the British government was expelling Qaddafi's representatives from London and requested the rebels to send an ambassador.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner added: “Yesterday we received an official request to re-open embassy, or rather, open an embassy,” for the National Transitional Council.

The Libyan rebels have now rescinded their offer for Qaddafi to remain in Libya. Two weeks ago that offer seemed to be an acknowledgement that they didn't have the force to expel the Libyan dictator.

Meanwhile Lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to bristle at not having been consulted on Libya. McKeon says he was called on the eve of the conflict in California. The president said he wanted to see him in an hour.

“We don't have a plane fast enough to get me back to the White House from California,” McKeon said, adding that he had just been meeting with the president and vice president the day before to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

“I shook hands with the president, vice president and no mention was made of Libya,” McKeon said. “He could have said I would like to have a meeting tomorrow morning in the White House, I would have stayed.”

Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent.