- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2011

House Republican leaders crafted legislation Thursday that would allow the U.S. military to continue participating in the NATO-led operation against Libya, as the Pentagon warned that any statement of congressional opposition would send “an unhelpful message of disunity and uncertainty” to U.S. troops, allies and Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

Facing a balance-of-power showdown and frustration among rank-and-file lawmakers, the leadership pursued an alternative to anti-war Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich’s proposal to end U.S. involvement in the conflict, according to Republican and Democratic congressional officials.

A vote on the issue was postponed Wednesday, and officials in both parties said it was because Mr. Kucinich’s legislation was gaining ground.

The leadership planned to present the alternative at a Thursday meeting of House Republicans.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters he expected the issue to be resolved by Friday.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss behind-the-scenes negotiations.

In a retort to Congress, Pentagon spokesman Geoff S. Morrell said Thursday that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates “believes that for the United States, once committed to a NATO operation, to unilaterally abandon that mission would have enormous and dangerous long-term consequences.”

Weighing in while traveling with Mr. Gates in Asia, Mr. Morrell said: “Once military forces are committed, such actions by the Congress can have significant consequences. It sends an unhelpful message of disunity and uncertainty to our troops, our allies, and, most importantly, the Gadhafi regime.”

He pointed out that NATO has sought U.S. help as the United States has asked for NATO assistance in Afghanistan.

President Obama ordered airstrikes in March to back Libyan rebels battling Col. Gadhafi’s regime after limited consultation with Congress.

More recently, the United States has operated in a support role as the standoff continues between Col. Gadhafi’s forces and the rebels.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution requires the president to obtain congressional authorization 60 days after the start of military operations, a deadline that passed last month.

Previous presidents, Republicans and Democrats, have largely ignored the law.

Among the measures Republicans planned to discuss was a resolution by Ohio Rep. Michael R. Turner calling on Congress to disapprove of U.S. military involvement.

Mr. Turner had the backing of more than 60 House Republicans and Mr. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat.

On Wednesday, NATO and its partners said they have decided to extend for another 90 days their military campaign to protect Libyan civilians.

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