TRIPOLI, Libya

Rebels say they’re closing in on Gadhafi’s location

A Tripoli military official said Wednesday that Moammar Gadhafi is cornered and the days before he is captured or killed are numbered, but another senior defense official contended that Libya’s new rulers have no idea where the fugitive former leader is.

The comments are the latest in a series of conflicting statements on the most pressing question still haunting the North African nation – where is Gadhafi?

The ousted leader, who ruled Libya for nearly 42 years, hasn’t been seen in public for months, and has released only audio messages trying to rally his supporters and lash out at his opponents. He went into hiding after opposition fighters swept into Tripoli on Aug. 21.

Anis Sharif, a spokesman for Tripoli’s military council, told The Associated Press that Gadhafi was still in Libya and had been tracked using advanced technology and human intelligence. Rebel forces have taken up positions on all sides of the fugitive leader’s presumed location, with none more than 40 miles away, he said, without elaborating.

BASRA, Iraq

White House, military differ on size of residual force

The Obama administration favors keeping a smaller military force in Iraq beyond this year than U.S. commanders believe is necessary, officials said Wednesday, although even a relatively tiny U.S. contingent may be too big for White House advisers who are worried about the slumping U.S. economy and the president’s re-election chances.

U.S. officials in Iraq and in Washington said the matter is still under discussion.

Two U.S. officials said Wednesday the administration is proposing a residual military force of about 3,000 to continue training Iraqi security forces after Dec. 31, the deadline for all U.S. troops to leave under a security agreement negotiated in 2008. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations; one said the residual force could be as big as 5,000.

A force of only a few thousand U.S. troops would do little to allay Iraqi and U.S. fears about a recent spike in violence in Iraq.

The two U.S. officials in Washington said a 3,000-strong force would enable the U.S. to conduct more extensive training of Iraqi security forces. But it would not be enough to continue the “advise and assist” role that U.S. troops currently are playing, in which they partner with Iraqi security units in the field.

— From news service reports