* Cameron, Rasmussen try to calm NATO discord
* Ex-Gaddafi adviser says Libyan leader playing for time
By Nick Carey
GHARYAN, Libya, June 16 Libyan rebels have
pushed deeper into government-held territory from their base in
the Western Mountains, taking two villages from which forces
loyal to Muammar Gaddafi had been shelling rebel-held towns.
But the rebels are still a considerable way from Gaddafi's
main stronghold in Tripoli, while their fellow fighters on the
other two fronts -- in Misrata and in eastern Libya -- have made
only halting progress against better-armed government troops.
The rebel advance some 150 km (90 miles) southwest of
Tripoli on Wednesday, came as the White House insisted that
President Barack Obama had the legal authority to press on with
U.S. military involvement in Libya.
Strains have begun to show in the Western alliance trying to
topple Gaddafi. The U.S. defense secretary rounded on European
allies last week for failing to back the mission the alliance
took over in late March.
The White House urged sceptical lawmakers not to send "mixed
messages" about their commitment to the NATO-led air war that
has helped the rebels push on from their bastion in the east.
"The revolutionaries (rebels) now control Zawiyat al-Babour
and al-Awiniyah after pro-Gaddafi forces retreated this morning
from the two villages," Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman in the
nearby town of Zintan, told Reuters.
More on Libya [nLDE72H00G]
More on Middle East unrest: [nTOPMEAST]
Libya graphics link.reuters.com/neg68r
In Gharyan, a Gaddafi-held town that forms the gateway from
Tripoli to the mountains, there was an undercurrent of tension
as the frontline moves closer to the capital.
Libyan government minders took a group of reporters to the
town, which lies about 120 km southwest of Tripoli and about 20
km east of Kikla, which rebels seized from loyalists on Tuesday.
Despite an outward appearance of normality, walls around
town on Wednesday had recently painted over graffiti. The
windows of one government building were smashed, the sign for
another was riddled with holes.
While many traders and people on the streets were reluctant
to talk to reporters, one shop owner said the calm in the area
during the day was replaced by fighting every night.
"Two thirds of the people here are for the rebels," he told
Reuters, giving his name as Mohammed.
Those willing to talk in front of the minders were strongly
"Sarkozy is stupid, he is fighting this war for petrol," a
man called Yunis said in French, referring to the French
president, vilified by Gaddafi supporters as the driving force
behind NATO bombing. "This is colonialism all over again."
TIME ON OUR SIDE
The NATO military alliance, which has been pounding
Gaddafi's military and command-and-control structures for nearly
three months, has failed to dislodge him.
Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said the alliance
was "sliding down and being dragged more into the eventuality of
a land-based operation in Libya".
Ties are becoming strained in the alliance, with some NATO
members complaining that others have been reluctant to commit
additional resources. [ID:nLDE75E0GG]
Tension in Washington itself over the conflict reflects
unease over U.S. entanglement in a third conflict in the Muslim
world in addition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and pressure
for Obama to clarify U.S. goals in the North African country.
The cost of U.S. military operations and humanitarian
assistance in Libya was $716 million as of June 3 and was
projected to reach $1.1 billion by Sept. 30, 2001, according to
a White House a report to Congress released on Wednesday.
"We believe that it's important for Congress not to send
mixed messages about a goal that we think most members of
Congress share," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Speaking in London after meeting NATO Secretary General
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, British Prime Minister David Cameron
reiterated that time was running out for Gaddafi and that the
alliance was as determined as ever.
"I think there is a very clear pattern emerging which is
time is on our side, because we have the support of NATO, the
United Nations, the Arab League, a huge number of countries in
our coalition and in our contact group," he said.
Rasmussen echoed those comments despite senior NATO
commander General Stephane Abrial on Tuesday raising questions
about the alliance's ability to handle a long-term intervention.
"Allies and partners are committed to provide the necessary
resources and assets to continue this operation and see it
through to a successful conclusion," Rasmussen said.
In a theatrical show of defiance, Gaddafi was shown at the
weekend playing a game of chess with a Russian official, but
after weeks of ambivalence, Moscow has joined Western countries
this month in calling for Gaddafi to step down.
Saad Djebbar, a former legal adviser to the Libyan
government, told Reuters Gaddafi would continue to play for time
and seek to demoralise and split the coalition.
"Gaddafi's mentality is that as long as my enemies haven't
triumphed, I haven't lost," he said.
Gaddafi has said he has no intention of leaving the country
-- an outcome which, with the military intervention so far
failing to produce results, many Western policymakers see as the
most realistic way out of the conflict.
At the United Nations, Britain's ambassador urged the
African Union to send a strong message that he should go, adding
there could be no ceasefire as long as he remained in power.
Gaddafi's government approved a $31.4 billion budget for the
rest of 2011, the official news agency said, in an apparent move
to show it was functioning despite air strikes and sanctions.
The Libyan leader has described the rebels as criminals and
al Qaeda militants, and called the NATO intervention an act of
colonial aggression aimed at grabbing Libya's oil.
Though under attack from NATO warplanes and rebel fighters,
Gaddafi's troops have showed they are still a potent force.
A rebel spokesman in Nalut, at the other end of the Western
Mountains range from Zintan, said Gaddafi's forces had been
shelling Nalut and the nearby border crossing into Tunisia. The
rebels depend on that crossing to bring in supplies.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Souhail Karam
in Rabat, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Mohammed Abbas in
London, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Youssef Boudlal in Zintan,
William Maclean in London, Sylvia Westall in Vienna, Maria
Golovnina in Benghazi, and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; writing by John
Irish and Christian Lowe; Editing by Alison Williams)