CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) - European and American leaders weighed the pros and cons of arming Libya's rebels Wednesday - a possibility made more urgent by a series of new military setbacks for forces seeking to topple strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
Government forces have been pushing from Bin Jawad to Ras Lanuf, a critical eastern oil town that the opposition seized on Sunday. Gadhafi's military has also launched escalated strikes in the western town of Misrata.
The new offensive was launched in the wake of an international arms embargo and airstrike campaign designed to establish a no-fly zone and provide humanitarian relief for civilians threatened by the Libyan military.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons Wednesday that the United Nations Security Council mandate "allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and populated areas (and) this would not necessarily rule out provision of assistance to those protecting civilians in certain circumstances."
"As I've said before, we do not rule it out but we have not taken the decision to do so," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is also open to the possibility of arming rebel fighters.
"I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in," he told NBC.
In a separate interview with ABC, Obama said that "if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. ... We're looking at all our options at this point."
One significant problem, however, is the need to train opposition forces on how to use advanced weaponry.
"The notion of the gang that couldn't shoot straight might be lived out," retired Maj. Gen. James "Spider" Marks told CNN Tuesday night.
"There must be some degree of training associated with arming this force," said Marks, a former commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. "However, some weapons systems, clearly they can get a handle on and they can use immediately. It's the more lethal weapon systems that would require training, and I don't think there's time to do that."
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with