Officials: Rebels Defeating Gadhafi Less Likely Than Other Paths to His Exit

Though the TV images of rebels are understandably what the media has been focused on, US government officials tell ABC News that a military victory by the rebels is the least likely of three paths to Gadhafi stepping down.

The first and probably the most likely path would be is Gadhafi stepping down on his own, officials say, brought into exile with promises of immunity from prosecution, access to funds, a potentially cushy life. It would be politically difficult for the Obama adminstration to be part of such a deal, but Obama administration officials haven’t ruled out the possibility of a “soft landing” for Gadhafi.

“I can't sitting here today predict to you exactly how it's going to play out,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told me on Sunday. “But we believe that Libya will have a better shot in the future if he departs and leaves power.”

A key part of this path would be Gadhafi feeling pressured by his inner circle, which is certainly happening, as evidenced by the defection of Intelligence Chief and Foreign Minister Mousa Kousa this week.

Officials say there are more indications this week that Gahdafi’s inner circle is “rattled and skittish,” as one official put it.

“They’re increasingly concerned about the direction Gadhafi is taking them,” the official said, citing intelligence reports.

This leads us to the second most likely path of Gadhafi’s exit – his being removed – by those around him, jailed, shoved into a plane, carried out on his feet or in a bag.

The least likely is the rag-tag band of misfits driving Toyotas around Libya defeating Gadhafi’s standing army.

When I asked White House press secretary Jay Carney today to give me the administration’s estimate of the rebels’ capabilities, he described them as “untrained, inexperienced people…That it is not a professional military, I think, is a notion that we can agree on.”

-- Jake Tapper

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