Speaking to members of Congress today, Adm. James Stavridis admitted that, while allied forces were not yet considering the deployment of troops on the ground in Libya, it was a possibility.
This could run counter to President Barack Obama's pledge that no U.S. soldiers would set foot on the ground in the embattled country, where the decades-long leadership of Col. Muammar Gaddafi has come under an intense challenge from civilian protesters.
Last week the U.S., leading NATO forces, imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, hurling hundreds of missiles and bombs at Gaddafi's soldiers and armor, in an effort to prevent them from massacring a huge civilian population.
The U.S. committment to this endeavor was contingent upon that one detail, according to the president: no U.S. troops will step foot in Libya.
But appearing today in Washington, D.C., Adm. Stavridis suggested that as NATO acted in the Balkans, sending in an international peacekeeping force, it may decide similarly for Libya.
He reportedly told Sen. Jack Reid (D-RI) that "the possibility of a stabilization regime exists."
That would play directly into the rhetorical coffers of American neoconservatives, who've cheered the president's decision to join the intervention and urged him to go even further.
And if he did, he'd have political support for it too: a recent Reuters poll found that approximately 60 percent of the U.S. public supports the intervention so far, and a further 77 percent said Gaddafi had to be removed from power.
Appearing on television Monday, President Obama said he had no choice but to act with international partners after Kadhafi rejected an offer to stop his "campaign of killing" and his forces surged towards the key city of Benghazi.
"Gaddafi declared that he would show 'no mercy' to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment," Obama said. "I refused to let that happen."
But the president was careful to warn the U.S. public that attempting to occupy Libya could cause a repeat of the misery and bloodshed that stemmed from President George W. Bush's invasion and subsequent occupation.
"If we tried to overthrow Kadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter," he warned. "We would likely have to put US troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq.
"Regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."
It was not clear whether the possible NATO "stabilization regime" would require U.S. soldiers.