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Report: Obama Authorizes Secret Support for Libyan Rebels

Obama has signed a secret order...

AP

According to Reuters, President Obama has signed a "secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi."

It's unclear what the secret order means, but some are speculating that it may mean sending arms to rebel fighters. Is the next step a U.S. ground presence in Libya?

From Reuters:

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and the White House declined immediate comment...

News that Obama had given the authorization surfaced as the President and other U.S. and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi's opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.

The United States is part of a coalition, with NATO members and some Arab states, which is conducting air strikes on Libyan government forces under a U.N. mandate aimed at protecting civilians opposing Gaddafi.

In interviews with American TV networks on Tuesday, Obama said the objective was for Gaddafi to "ultimately step down" from power. He spoke of applying "steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means" to force Gaddafi out.

Obama said the U.S. had not ruled out providing military hardware to rebels. "It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We're looking at all our options at this point," the President told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.

Reuters also reports:

People familiar with U.S. intelligence procedures said that Presidential covert action "findings" are normally crafted to provide broad authorization for a range of potential U.S. government actions to support a particular covert objective.

In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorization -- for example the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gaddafi forces -- the White House also would have to give additional "permission" allowing such activities to proceed.

Because U.S. and allied intelligence agencies still have many questions about the identities and leadership of anti-Gaddafi forces, any covert U.S. activities are likely to proceed cautiously until more information about the rebels can be collected and analyzed, officials said.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer reports on the "secret order" and what it means. Does the "secret order" go beyond what coalitions forces have agreed to commit in Libya, Blitzer asks?

Michele Bachmann was right: the war in Libya is escalating.

Watch footage of Libyans fighting:

This is a breaking story. Updates may be added.

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