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NATO allies divided over pace of attacks in Libya

April 13, 2011 - Washington

The pace of attacks against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya seems to be dividing NATO allies with many participating countries refusing to carry out strikes against forces on the ground, even as they continue air strikes in the region, while others want to intensify the attacks.

France and Britain have openly called on the alliance and its partners to intensify air strikes on Libyan government troops to protect civilians.

NATO operational commander Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada said: " As long as regime forces continue attacking their own people, we will intervene to protect them," adding that NATO has resolved to protect the civilians.

Arriving for talks in Luxembourg with other European leaders, the British foreign minister, William Hague, said that the allies had to "maintain and intensify" the military effort, noting that Britain had already deployed extra ground attack planes. He also urged other countries to do the same.

Britain and France are now flying the bulk of the attack missions, with Norway, Denmark and Canada also striking Libyan targets on the ground, The New York Post reports.

However, other countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are taking less aggressive roles, enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya or conducting reconnaissance missions, keeping their own political considerations in mind.

The varying tactics reflect the different ways in which each country in the coalition views the mission, and how tough it has been to gather all the participating countries to carry out focused attacks.

The United States has also resorted to limiting itself in a supporting role in the attacks against Libya by the allied forces, raising a growing sense of concern among some military analysts.

In the past week, NATO pilots were involved in two friendly-fire instances that killed well over a dozen rebel fighters.

The countries involved in the conflict are to hold separate meetings this week to try to maintain a consensus on forcing Gaddafi to end attacks on cities held by rebel forces.

The separate meetings can be regarded as a sign of the bifurcated political and military leadership of the coalition, whose members remain divided over the means of the operation, if not the end, which would hopefully end with a political transition in Libya with Gaddafi's removal.

Several European and NATO diplomats have acknowledged that NATO's initial handling of the air campaign has been plagued with problems and miscommunications, however things now seem to be getting better.

The diplomats said that after a rough start, NATO was getting better at attacking mobile targets by identifying them accurately and quickly and relaying that information to the warplanes. "There is a learning curve, but we are progressing," a French diplomat said adding that the Americans were not indispensable.

NATO is now flying just under 200 aircraft, with the United States supplying about 40 refueling, reconnaissance and other specialized planes that few if any other countries have.


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