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Nato takes Libya command

NATO took full command Sunday of military operations in Libya from a
US-led coalition, enabling the alliance to strike at forces loyal to
Moamer Kadhafi should they threaten civilians.
This handout picture released by ECPAD (The French Defence
Communication and Audiovisual Production Agency) shows a Rafale jet of
the French army being supplied as it takes part in military operations
in Libya.
Pressed by Western powers, notably the United States and Italy, to
take the helm as swiftly as possible, ambassadors from the 28-nation
alliance approved the transfer after overcoming French and Turkish
concerns.
“Our goal is to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas
under threat of attack from the Gadhafi regime,” said Nato Secretary
General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
“Nato will implement all aspects of the UN Resolution. Nothing more, nothing less,” he said.
Rasmussen said operational commander for Operation Unified
Protector, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard of Canada, was
instructed to “begin executing this operation with immediate effect.”
Nato officials cautioned however that the transfer would take some
48 to 72 hours, meaning the coalition will co-exist with Nato’s
operation for another two or three days.
Meeting concerns raised by Turkey, envoys from Nato’s 28 member
states endorsed a three-month plan agreed by its military authorities,
including rules of engagement strictly limiting the use of ground
strikes to protect civilians and populated areas, diplomats said.
The plan does not call for Nato to intervene in support of the armed rebellion fighting Gadhafi, the diplomats said.
“Nato will always remain impartial. Nato does not take sides,” said a Nato diplomat who asked not to be identified.
The transatlantic organisation is already running naval operations
to prevent weapons and mercenaries from entering Libya, and agreed to
enforce a no-fly zone to prevent Gadhafi’s jets from flying.
Under Sunday’s agreement, Nato’s role is broadened to strike ground
assets such as tanks or artillery, in the case civilian lives are in
danger.
In a landmark resolution a little over a week ago, the United
Nations approved “all necessary measures” to safeguard civilians under
threat of attack.
Turkey, Nato’s sole predominantly Muslim member, had criticised the
scope of Western-led air strikes launched over the past week. With
decisions taken by unanimous vote at Nato, “the rules of engagement
will take into account the sensitivities of all Nato members, including
Turkey,” an alliance diplomat said.
Bouchard, from his headquarters in Naples, Italy, will thus scramble
jets across the Mediterranean to strike at Gadhafi tanks and troops
only to save civilian lives — enforcing a “no-drive zone” — or in
self-defence.
From the outset, the international coalition launched by Britain and
France levered for support from Arab and African states as regional
power Turkey vowed to “never point a gun at the Libyan people”.
Ankara late last week finally backed the no-fly zone and pledged warships to enforce an arms embargo off Libya’s coast.
But luring Arab nations into action has been slow, with Qatar and
the United Arab Emirates alone in pledging fighter jets. Qatari
warplanes have overflown while six UAE F-16s arrived at a base in Italy
on Sunday.
“Along with its non-Nato partners, Nato will do everything it can to
deny any use of air power and it will do so with care and precision to
avoid harming the people of Libya,” Bouchard said Sunday, adding he had
begun to “execute” the no-fly zone.
As critics query the end-game and exit strategy, another key
question to resolve is who will have political control of ongoing
military operations.
France has warned that flying the mission under the Nato flag would
alienate Arab allies, with President Nicolas Sarkozy firing a new
broadside Friday.
“It would be playing into the hands of Colonel Gadhafi to say Nato
is taking over,” he said, insisting that Nato would merely run
day-to-day operations while the political coordination would rest in
the hands of a coalition committee.
That row is set to haunt talks in London on Tuesday between a
“contact group” on Libya gathering foreign ministers from more than 35
countries, as well as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
As Gadhafi’s troops buckle under the coalition assault, the
conference convened by Britain and France will also mull diplomatic
solutions to the conflict in Libya.
Bangkok Post
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Categories: World News
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