Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been the subject of a plot by US imperialism to topple his government and seize the oil fields in this North African state. The New York Times has substantiated the allegations that the C.I.A. has been operating there., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
April 12, 2011
Pace of Attacks in Libya Conflict Is Dividing NATO
By STEVEN LEE MYERS and ERIC SCHMITT
New York Times
WASHINGTON — With the United States limiting itself to a supporting role in the conflict in Libya, fissures opened among NATO allies on Tuesday over the scope and intensity of attacks against the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, officials here and in Europe said.
On the eve of two important meetings this week, France and Britain openly called on the alliance and its partners to intensify airstrikes on Libyan government troops to protect civilians, prompting an unusual public retort from NATO’s command that it was carrying out the military operation under the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorized force.
“As long as regime forces continue attacking their own people, we will intervene to protect them,” Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada, the NATO operational commander, said in Naples, Italy. “NATO’s resolve is in its mandate to protect the civilian population.”
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.
“Of course, it would be welcome if other countries also did the same,” Mr. Hague said.
His remarks, echoed by Foreign Minister Alain Juppé of France, reflected what officials have described as a complex and at times convoluted coalition, with many participating countries refusing to carry out airstrikes against forces on the ground, even as their planes patrol the skies over Libya.
Britain and France, for example, are now flying the bulk of the attack missions, with Norway, Denmark and Canada also striking Libyan targets on the ground. But 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, in a nod to political considerations back home.
The varying tactics reflect the different ways in which each country in the coalition views the mission, and how tough it has been to corral all the participants into focused attacks.
In Washington, Obama administration officials sought to tamp down a growing sense of concern among some military analysts that the combination of the Americans’ back-seat role, NATO’s inexperience in waging a complicated air campaign against moving targets and botched communications with the ragtag rebel army had thrown the mission into disarray. In the past week, NATO pilots were involved in two friendly-fire instances that killed well over a dozen rebel fighters.
Meantime, as some allies privately hope for the return of the American-led ground-attack missions, other coalition partners have expressed concern that their supplies of precision-guided bombs are running low after more than 800 strike missions.
“We have every confidence in NATO’s ability to carry out the tasks of enforcing the arms embargo as well as the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians in Libya,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday. “As the president said, the U.S. and other key partners had capabilities that they brought to this operation upfront, and then our role would diminish as NATO stepped up and took command and control of the operation. And that’s what’s happened.”
The United States has worked hard to limit its role in the Libyan campaign, arguing that it has its plate full with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also argued that Libya’s history and proximity to Europe make it a European problem, and that it was the French, in particular, who had argued for aggressive intervention.
Still, officials in Washington and Europe expressed frustration and worry about the coordination of the campaign, though a senior official of the Obama administration said it was willing to accept the complications inherent in the command of the operation because “there’s a huge benefit in having a wider coalition.”
The countries involved in the conflict are to hold separate meetings this week to try to maintain a consensus on forcing Colonel Qaddafi to end attacks on cities held by rebel forces.
In Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday, representatives of one group of allied countries will discuss the diplomatic initiatives now under way, led by the United Nations special envoy for Libya, Abdel Ilah al-Khatib, and African leaders. Libya’s former foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, who fled to Britain, is also expected to attend. NATO members begin a meeting the next day in Berlin.
The American delegation to the meetings in Doha will be led by Under Secretary of State William J. Burns. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who met with the Jordanian foreign minister and the emir of Qatar in Washington on Tuesday, will attend the NATO meeting in Berlin.
The separate meetings are themselves 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: a political transition in Libya that sees the removal of Colonel Qaddafi.
“Forming coalitions is complicated enough,” the senior administration official said. “Sustaining them is sometimes equally complicated. It requires a lot of hard work and tending.”
A European diplomat expressed concern that the efforts to negotiate a cease-fire — rebuffed so far by the rebels and government loyalists — could have a potential “demobilization effect” among some of the militaries now involved, because it might entice some countries to slow down the assault. Referring to Colonel Qaddafi, the diplomat insisted that “we have to maintain the military pressure on him” in order to end the conflict.
Several European and NATO diplomats acknowledged on Tuesday that NATO’s initial handling of the air campaign has been plagued with problems and miscommunications. But these officials insisted that with improving weather and lessons learned from a week’s worth of hard knocks, the tempo of operations was steadily improving.
A senior NATO diplomat said, for instance, that the alliance decided only at the end of March how many aircraft it would need to maintain the operation that the United States led for about 10 days. After some reluctance, countries were providing the forces to fill the requirements.
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. The United States also has about 40 aircraft in reserve, including tank-killing A-10s and AC-130 gunships.
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. “The Americans are not indispensable.”
In Brussels, Brig. Gen. Mark van Uhm, NATO chief of operations, said Tuesday that allied warplanes flew an average of 62 bombing runs a day last weekend, about on par with what the American-led operation did.
“We are having an effect,” General van Uhm said. “Qaddafi forces can’t fight how they want to, where they want to or with what weapons they want to.”
Steven Erlanger and Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.