May 24, 2011 1:18 am

Senators back US operations in Libya

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A group of prominent senators has sought to rally support on Capitol Hill for the US military involvement in Libya, several days after the 60-day limit set by the War Powers Act expired.

A resolution, introduced by the group on Monday, would also endorse using some of the more than $36bn of frozen Libyan funds to help the opposition Transitional National Council, in line with a request for about $180m.

Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential nominee, and one of the sponsors of the resolution, said: “I support President [Barack] Obama’s decision to commit US forces to the mission in Libya, and I hope this resolution will elicit a broad statement of bipartisan support among my Senate colleagues.”

Some commentators have accused Mr Obama of illegitimately expanding executive authority by failing to secure a congressional vote backing the war before the 60-day limit expired last Friday. That contrasted with congressional votes backing previous military action in theatres such as Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Obama administration argues it has acted legally and emphasises it has given up the lead in what it describes as a “limited” operation. US personnel no longer carry out strikes on Libya, although two US Predator drones continue to hit targets in the country and Washington also provides extensive support behind the scenes.

On Friday, Mr Obama wrote to John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, declaring his support for the senators’ initiative, which he said would “confirm that Congress supports the US mission in Libya”. The bipartisan group of senators backing the resolution includes John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Carl Levin, Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein.

Despite the resolution’s support for using money frozen in the US to help the Libyan opposition, separate legislation, currently in the drafting stage, is needed to pass the money on, because the funds have not been expropriated.

Support for the administration is far from universal. In a letter sent on Monday, Richard Lugar, senior Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, said the administration had “no meaningful consultation with Congress” before the beginning of hostilities.

Mr McCain called for Mr Obama to ramp up US involvement once again.

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