NATO takes command of Libya no-fly zone

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance will enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, but not other military operations there.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses a news conference at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. (Ezequiel Scagnetti/Reuters)

NATO agreed late Thursday to take over part of the military operations against Libya — enforcement of the no-fly zone — after days of hard bargaining among its members. But attacks on the ground will continue to be run by the coalition led by the U.S., which has been anxious to give up the lead role.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who announced the NATO agreement in Brussels, said the alliance operation would proceed in parallel with the bombing campaign carried out by coalition aircraft.

"At this moment there will still be a coalition operation and a NATO operation," Fogh Rasmussen said. "We are considering whether NATO should take on the broader responsibility in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution, but that decision has not been reached yet."

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised NATO for taking over the no-fly zone, even though the U.S. had hoped the alliance would have agreed Thursday to take full control of the military operation that was authorized by the UN, including the protection of Libyan civilians and supporting humanitarian aid efforts on the ground.

Lines of authority were unclear Thursday night, but it appeared the NATO decision sets up dual command centres and opens the door to confusion and finger-pointing. U.S. commanders would presumably be chiefly responsible for ensuring that the NATO protective flights do not conflict with planned combat operations under U.S. command.

NATO expects to commence enforcement of the no-fly zone within 48-72 hours. The operation will be commanded from Naples by Admiral Samuel J. Locklear. U.S. warplanes will continue flying strike missions over Libya, the Pentagon said earlier Thursday. 

NATO also agreed to launch military planning for a broader mandate, including a no-drive zone that would prevent Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's armour and artillery from moving. The North Atlantic Council is scheduled to meet on Sunday to consider the plans.

"Without prejudging deliberations, I would expect a decision in coming days," Fogh Rasmussen said.

NATO'S top decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, had been struggling for six days to reach an agreement on using its military command and control capability to co-ordinate the operation in Libya.

Turkey gives assent

The logjam appeared to have broken earlier Thursday when Turkey, which had sought assurances that the NATO operation would be limited, finally gave its assent. The alliance needs the approval of all 28 members to take such action. 

Turkey's parliament authorized the government to participate in military operations in Libya, including the no-fly zone. 

Before the approval of the mission, hundreds of people, including members of left-wing political parties, protested against the deployment outside Turkey's parliament as well as the U.S. Embassy, where protesters chanted slogans against NATO and Stavridis' visit. 

Separately, the 27 European Union heads of government, also in Brussels for a summit, issued a statement saying the EU stood ready to assist in building a new Libya "in co-operation with the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union and others."

In Rome, Italy's parliament approved the country's involvement in Libya with back-to-back votes in both houses. The lower Chamber of Deputies gave its approval on Thursday, a day after the Senate.

Italy has offered the coalition attacking military targets in Libya the use of seven military bases for its aircraft. It has also made available eight of its own jets for use in missions. But it has been pushing for NATO to take over command of the operation.  

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the United Arab Emirates had committed 12 planes to the coalition.