News / Middle East

NATO to Take Control of Libyan 'No-Fly' Zone

A French Rafale fighter jet approaches an airborne Boeing C-135 refueling tanker aircraft from the Istres military air base during a refueling operation above the Mediterranean Sea, Mar 25 2011
A French Rafale fighter jet approaches an airborne Boeing C-135 refueling tanker aircraft from the Istres military air base during a refueling operation above the Mediterranean Sea, Mar 25 2011

The handover of the no-fly mission to NATO could come as early as this weekend. But the decision does not allow for a quick exit by the alliance from the costly military operation.

NATO Secretary-General Andres Foch Rasmussen explained Friday that some operations will remain under the aegis of the Western coalition, as debate continues to expand NATO's role.

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

Several NATO members, including Turkey, had resisted involvement in ground attacks.  

The U.S. 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.

The allies' efforts to recruit Arab countries to avoid an all-Western military presence received a boost on Thursday as the United Arab Emirates agreed to send 12 planes to help enforce the no-fly zone.

Qatar has already contributed two fighters and two military transport planes to the coalition and is expected to begin flying patrols over Libya this weekend.

Coalition warplanes struck numerous targets belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi during the past 24 hours. Eyewitnesses say pro-Gadhafi forces were hit in the capital Tripoli, the besieged Western town of Misrata and in Ajdabiya in the east of the country.

As fighting continued, Admiral Edouard Guillaud told France Info radio that he doubted that the situation would be resolved quickly.

"I doubt it will take a few days," Guillaud said. "I think it's more likely a matter of weeks. I hope it will not be a matter of months."

Guillaud was confident, however, that Libyan airspace was under control:

"An old Libyan plane in the hands of pro-Gadhafi forces, which had just taken off from Misrata in order to bomb Misrata, was destroyed by a French Rafale as it landed in Misrata," said Guillaud.

He said that action was good proof of the reactivity of the coalition. He added that they have also destroyed munitions depots, maintenance facilities and also the command center, and an historic base for the Libyan regime.

Libyan government TV continued to broadcast images of pro-Gadhafi supporters in the capital Tripoli, chanting slogans in favor of the embattled Libyan leader. The TV also broadcast images of a funeral Thursday for victims it alleged were killed by coalition forces. An opposition leader, however, told al Arabiya TV that the charges were "government propaganda."

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