The Times said Wednesday clandestine CIA operatives had been in Libya for several weeks along with a sizable contingent of British intelligence agents and special-forces troops.
Despite President Obama's public statements that U.S. ground forces would not get involved in the Libyan rebellion, the West in general has had limited intelligence capabilities in Libya and also needs hard information to guide NATO-led air missions.
"We didn't have great data," U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham told the newspaper in an e-mail. "Libya hasn't been a country we focused on a lot over past few years."
The officials told the Times U.S. and British agents were not in particularly close contact with the anti-government rebels, but targeting information provided to NATO air forces could diminish the effectiveness of Moammar Gadhafi's military and hasten his departure from power.
The White House issued a statement Wednesday declining comment on the matter and reiterating that a decision to provide arms to the rebels had not been made.