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NATO takes over enforcement of Libyan no-fly zone

This does not mean that the US can make a quick exit from the military operation, experts say.

Three Dutch F-16 aircraft prepare for landing at the Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, Italy, Thursday, March 24, 2011
Three Dutch F-16 aircraft prepare for landing at the Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, Italy, Thursday, March 24, 2011
Image: AP Photo/Rosi Coroneo via PA Images

NATO HAS AGREED to take over the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya after days of hard bargaining among its members.

Attacks on the ground will continue to be led by the US, which has been anxious to give up the lead role.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who announced the agreement in Brussels, said the alliance could eventually take more responsibility.

The US had hoped the alliance would take full control of the military operation authorised by the United Nations, including the protection of Libyan civilians and supporting humanitarian aid efforts on the ground.

NATO also agreed to launch a “no-drive” zone – this would prevent Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s armour and artillery from moving against rebels his forces had been routing before the coalition’s air assault began late last week.

Diplomats also have drawn up plans to put political supervision of NATO’s effort in the hands of a broader international coalition and US, European, and Arab and African officials have been invited to London next week to work out the details.

The US will continue to fly combat missions as needed, but its role will mainly be in support missions such as refueling allied planes and providing aerial surveillance of Libya.

Qatar is expected to begin flying air patrols this weekend, and the United Arab Emirates has agreed to deploy 12 planes.

Turkey’s parliament on Thursday authorised the government to participate in military operations, including the no-fly zone.

Libya’s air force has been effectively neutralised and Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said no Libyan planes have been in the air since the no-fly zone was declared.

A UN arms embargo blocks the rebels demanding Gadhafi’s ousting and the government from getting more weapons.

The airstrikes may have prevented Gadhafi from quickly routing the rebels, but the weakness of both sides could mean a long struggle for control of the country. However, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the international action would last days or possibly weeks, but not months.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Gadhafi has ignored UN demands to declare a cease-fire and risks further Security Council action if he doesn’t halt the violence. He expressed concerns about Libya’s precarious humanitarian situation, protection of civilians, and human rights abuses.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said “it is when Gadhafi forces go back to their barracks and the civilians would no longer be threatened,” that the UN mandate would be completed.

NATO’s agreement to take command of the no-fly zone over Libya doesn’t allow the US to make a quick exit from the military operation as the Obama administration had wanted.

American sea and airpower remain key parts of the effort to keep forces loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi from attacking civilians.

The US, along with France and Britain, maintains primary responsibility for attacks on Gadhafi’s ground forces and air defence systems, the toughest and most controversial parts of the operation.

- AP

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