Libyan rebels said Friday they would agree to a cease-fire on the condition Moammar Gadhafi's military forces stand down and allow for peaceful protest against his government.
At a joint press conference with a U.N. envoy, opposition spokesman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil insisted that "the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose and the world will see that they will choose freedom."
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Thursday it would soon be pulling U.S. fighter jets from the military operation to the consternation of some lawmakers.
As NATO forces take the lead in the international air campaign in Libya, the Obama administration reasoned Britain, France and other nation countries should be able to handle airstrikes on their own with the U.S. only providing support.
"The removal of Col. Gadhafi will likely be achieved over time through political and economic measures, and by his own people," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
"However, this NATO-led operation can degrade Gadhafi's military capacity to the point where he -- and those around him -- will be forced into a very different set of choices and behaviors in the future," he said.
But some questioned the timing of bowing out of a key element of the military strategy with Moammar Gadhafi's forces gaining ground against the nation's rebels.
"Your timing is exquisite," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said sarcastically.
"At a time when the Gadhafi forces have tragically routed the anti-Gadhafi forces -- that is when we announced that the United States is abdicating its leadership role and removing some of the most valuable assets," McCain added.
"The idea that the AC-130s and the A-10s and American air power is grounded unless the place goes to hell is just so unnerving that I can't express it adequately," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said. "The only thing I would ask is, please reconsider that."
Earlier this week, rebels controlled key cities along Libya's northern coast, making critical advances on Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. But just as quickly, government forces recaptured all of that territory.
"You establish a no-fly zone and you say that you are not going to add any additional support. I think this retreat clearly shows that more support is needed and needed badly if they are going to get anywhere against Gaddafi," CBN News Sr. Political Editor John Waage said.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have questioned the identity of the rebels, and wondered just how many are fighting to upend the Gadhafi regime. By one account, less than 1,000 -- and of those, perhaps just a few hundred -- are core fighters.
"By looking at this footage it is quite obvious that this is just a rag tag militia that's riding around in pickup trucks with machine guns, a few RPG's," CBN News International Correspondent Gary Lane noted. "It is hardly an army capable of overthrowing a regime."
Ret. Army Gen. James Dubick, senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, appeared to agree with Lane's assessment.
"Right now, they [the rebels] are more like `guys with guns' than an organized force and they need help," Dubick wrote in a war commentary Thursday.
Meanwhile, President Obama has reportedly authorized covert operations to help the rebels. For now, that does not include arming them. But the president hinted he may do so in the future.