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Nato takes over Libya no-fly zone

March 25, 2011

www.bbc.co.uk

Nato has agreed to take command of enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya from the US.

But Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made clear that other aspects of the operation would remain in the hands of the current coalition for now.

Nato has been locked in dispute about whether to take charge of the mission to enforce a UN resolution.

It is believed there are differences of opinion whether attacks on ground troops should form part of the action.

Coalition raids on Libya are meanwhile continuing for a sixth consecutive night.

Mr Rasmussen has insisted there is no split on the military handover, saying Nato is still considering whether to take on the “broader responsibility”.

The handover of the no-fly mission could come as early as this weekend.

Mr Rasmussen said all Nato members had agreed to the move, including Turkey, which had expressed doubts over strikes on a fellow Muslim country.

“The fact is that in Nato we take all decisions by consensus and the decision we are taking today to enforce a no fly zone is also taken by a consensus which means that all 28 allies support that decision,” he told the BBC.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Nato’s decision to take command of the no-fly zone operation.

The US initially agreed to lead enforcement of the UN resolution, but made clear it wanted only a limited role and would hand over responsibility as soon as possible.

But the handover to Nato became bogged down when Turkey made clear its view that action should focus directly on enforcing the no-fly zone and arms embargo, rather than allowing any continuing strikes against ground forces.

The resolution authorises the international community to use “all necessary means” to protect Libyan civilians, but the phrase has become open to different interpretations.

Further discussions are being held about command of action beyond strictly enforcing the no-fly zone.

Nato ambassadors are now said to be discussing a plan which would see Nato in charge of all military aspects of the action against Libya, says the BBC’s Matthew Price in Brussels.

The entire operation would be overseen by a council of ambassadors and ministers from Nato countries, and importantly, Arab states which support the action, our correspondent understands.

But it is not clear what power such a council would have and whether it could veto particular military missions, our correspondent adds.

‘Stop fighting’

Earlier, French officials confirmed they had destroyed a Libyan military plane which had flown in breach of the no-fly zone. The G-2/Galeb, a training plane with a single engine, had just landed when it was hit by a missile fired by a Rafale jet, a spokesman said.

It was the first such incident of its kind since the operation began.

In the US, Vice-Admiral Bill Gortney told a Pentagon briefing that a total of 350 aircraft were now involved in the operation in some way, about half of them American.

Bill GortneyPlease turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney tells Libyan soldiers to “stop killing your own people”

A total of 38 ships were participating in a naval blockade, he said, 12 of them from the US.

He insisted that ground forces would continue to be attacked as long as they posed a threat to Libyan civilians.

“Our message to the regime troops is simple – stop fighting… stop obeying Gaddafi’s orders,” he said.

As the bombing raids were resumed on Thursday night, Libyan state television reported that targets in Tripoli and Tajoura had been hit.

Fresh fighting has meanwhile been reported in Misrata, scene of a bitter battle for control which has lasted for many days.

One doctor quoted by the AFP news agency said pro-Gaddafi forces had killed more than 100 people and injured 1,300 in the past week.

Further east in the strategically important city of Ajdabiya, residents described shelling, gunfire and houses on fire. One report said rebels were moving closer to the city but remained out-gunned by pro-Gaddafi forces.

In the main eastern city of Benghazi, rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani told the BBC that 17,000 fighters had set out from the city to join the battle to the west.

Although he admitted that the rebel forces were on a “learning curve”, he insisted that they all knew how to operate their weapons and were committed.

“We will slowly advance,” he said. “[Gaddafi’s forces] have no reason to fight, no cause, while we do.

“We have given so much blood and we’re willing to give some more if we have to.”

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has said he is “100% certain” that charges of crimes against humanity will be brought against Col Gaddafi’s regime.

An initial inquiry should end in May, he said, and a second case might follow to investigate more recent attacks on civilians.

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