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Top House Republican: Probably too late for Libyan no-fly zone

By Pam Benson, CNN National Security Producer
  • The House Intelligence Committee chairman says a no-fly zone is overdue
  • Now it may be too late, Rep. Mike Rogers says
  • "We have acted with the upmost urgency," the White House says

Washington (CNN) -- It may be too late to go ahead with a no-fly zone over Libya, according to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, told a gathering at a Washington think tank on Tuesday that he had been an early supporter of a no-fly zone imposed with the help of other nations.

"I'd argue we should have had a no-fly zone earlier but we should have invited in the Arab League. They've got some planes to put in the game. They should have been involved in the game," he said. "If they believe a no-fly zone is a good idea, they should have participated with us early on in the process. It may be too late now."

He maintained that grounding the Libyan government's planes would have had a huge psychological impact for the rebel cause.

The comments drew a response from White House spokesman Jay Carney.

"We have acted with the upmost urgency. We have taken dramatic action together with our international partners," Carney said. "The actions (of) the United States and its international partners have been quite swift and unprecedented in many ways."

Carney said the United States continues to look at other options. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Libyan opposition officials while in Paris on Monday.

The 22-member Arab League didn't call on the United Nations to authorize a no-fly zone until this past Saturday, more than three weeks after the unrest began in Libya. The U.N. Security Council is expected to take up a resolution soon.

In the meantime, forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continue to regain territory captured by rebels, with the opposition's main stronghold of Benghazi now in jeopardy. Rogers said Gadhafi clearly has the military advantage.

"Firepower means something in this kind of conflict and he's got the firepower," he said.

Despite questions about the competency of the Libyan Air Force, Rogers said the bombing campaign helped turn the tide in the battle against the rebels. "There's nothing like a 500-pound bomb to make you rethink if you want to stay in the rebel cause," Rogers said.

But the Intelligence Committee chairman said arming the opposition fighters is a non-starter, because so little is known about them. "Who are we arming," he asked. "What are we giving them, if that's an option. I happen to think it's a terrible option."

Rogers would not go so far as to predict a victory for Gadhafi, but he did say this is one of the most difficult problems he has seen and predicted that even if the main fighting is over soon, there will be no clear winner and the conflict will stretch out for years to come.