In the midst of all this damaging of the safety net, I would be remiss in not noticing the endgame in the Libya civil war, as rebels creep ever closer to Tripoli for a final showdown. NATO certainly sees a moment of opportunity, as they have stepped up air attacks. The fact that this has nothing to do with a humanitarian mission to protect civilians is besides the point.

NATO denied a Libyan government charge Thursday that the alliance is intentionally using its airstrikes to assist rebel advances, saying it is sticking to its mandate to protect civilians.

Wing Cmdr. Mike Bracken, an alliance spokesman in Naples, Italy, said NATO is “not involved in the ground battles,” although he acknowledged the alliance is tracking the fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim accused NATO earlier Thursday of intensifying its bombing campaign and backing foreign mercenaries to lay the groundwork for an advance by rebels trying to topple Gadhafi’s regime.

NATO can keep up this fiction if it wants, but the evidence clearly shows that they are the air force of the Libyan rebels. France, a NATO member nation, is also its arms supplier. But while the rebels advance, weapons shortages are a concern.

Libyan rebels have advanced against government forces on a strategically important road south of Tripoli.

They have moved between 10-15km (6-16 miles) in the last 24 hours towards the government-held town of Gharian, a BBC correspondent says.

The town controls access to one of the main roads leading from the desert northwards towards the capital.

Earlier, rebels in Misrata said progress towards Tripoli was being hampered by a lack of ammunition.

NATO is taking out Gadhafi’s defenses, but the rebels have little weaponry to capitalize. This is going to be the only war in modern history that ends with a fistfight. It appears that the rebels need the NATO air cover to advance, while Gadhafi’s forces are wounded but can still attack, as they’ve been doing in Misurata the past few days.

I don’t know if the rebels can win a military victory alone. But I know the group rooting the most for that outcome – the US Congress. That way, they can put aside these triflings about Constitutional war powers and the unitary executive authority. They don’t really want to pursue that line of inquiry, after all.

UPDATE: It’s actually not clear whether the rebels need more weapons or not.

David Dayen

David Dayen