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A no-fly zone would require pulling at least one aircraft carrier and its 80 warplanes from the Gulf region, as well as making use of planes in Italy.

“It would take some time and many airplanes,” said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, an adviser to commanders in Afghanistan.

Gen. Keane said another option would be to strike Col. Gadhafi’s air force as it sits on airstrips and in hangars. “The use of ground forces is highly unlikely, except to participate in an evacuation or a hostage rescue,” he said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signaled this week that he is not eager to launch a complex air operation over Libya. He also disclosed that NATO had not agreed on any military action.

“Our job is to give the president the broadest possible decision space and options,” he said. “If we move additional assets, what are the consequences of that for Afghanistan, for the Persian Gulf? And what other allies are prepared to work with us in some of these things?

“So I think those are some of the effects that we have to think about,” Mr. Gates said. “We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East.”

Peter Mansoor, a former executive officer in Iraq to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and a history teacher at Ohio State University, said options could include inserting special-operations teams to aid the rebels, as was done in the invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban.

“The Obama administration should make it clear that it will only consider intervention if publicly invited by leaders of the opposition movement,” Mr. Mansoor said. “Otherwise, the United States will once again be accused of fomenting regime change for nefarious purposes, such as seizing Libyan oil.

“In addition, the United States should only intervene as part of a multinational force with an international mandate, to prevent the diplomatic fiasco that occurred in the wake of the invasion of Iraq in 2003,” he said. “If the Libyan opposition wants American support, they need to kiss us in public.”

The Pentagon’s Africa Command, a new unit set up to run military operations on the continent, including Libya, has been publicly silent during its first crisis. Army Gen. William Ward, its chief, has made no statements.

“At this time, we are supporting the Department of Defense’s efforts to conduct planning for a variety of options,” said spokesman Kenneth Fidler. “Gen. Ward has not made any statements. Beyond that, I don’t have any further details to provide.”