France and Italy send officers to advise Libya rebels
France and Italy joined Britain on Wednesday in sending military advisers to assist Libya's rebel shadow government in its Benghazi stronghold.
"We are going to help you," France's President Nicolas Sarkozy told Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC), which leads the revolt against Moamer Kadhafi's 42-year-old rule, aides said.
French officials said Sarkozy and Abdel Jalil had discussed stepping up coalition air strikes against Kadhafi's forces, and insisted that the rebel leader had not requested support from coalition ground troops.
"France has placed a small number of liaison officers alongside our special envoy to Benghazi who are carrying out a liaison mission with the TNC," foreign ministry spokeswoman Christine Fage told reporters.
"The precise objective is to give the TNC essentially technical, logistical and organisational advice to reinforce the protection of civilians and to improve the distribution of humanitarian and medical aid," Fages said.
"We have invited the French president to come visit Benghazi. I think that would be very important for the revolution's morale," Abdel Jalil said after the meeting. Sarkozy's office said it had "taken note" of the invitation.
Separately Italy -- along with France and Qatar one of only three states to recognise the TNC -- announced the dispatch of 10 officers.
"There is a clear understanding that the rebels have to be trained," Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told reporters after meeting British Defence Minister Liam Fox in Rome.
The announcement came the day after France's main ally in the drive to aid the to rebels defeat Kadhafi's forces, Britain, said it would send advisers to help organise the stalled rebellion, amid heavy civilian casualties.
Western powers have nevertheless strongly denied they are preparing to break their taboo against putting foreign combat troops on the battlefield to bolster the two-month-old revolt.
"We are not envisaging troops on the ground, in any shape or form," government spokesman Francois Baroin told journalists following a cabinet meeting, adding that the advisers would number "fewer than 10".
Baroin also said France was not seeking new UN Security Council action that would give the allies a broader mandate to intervene in Libya.
"We are not taking the initiative to seek a new Security Council resolution. The French position is stable and unchanged on this problem of applying Resolution 1973," he said.
That resolution permitted the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, but explicitly forbade a "foreign occupation force" -- a phrase which some states interpret as banning any ground intervention at all.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted Tuesday that adding around 12 military advisers to the diplomatic team in Benghazi did not breach the UN resolution authorising air strikes against Kadhafi forces.
Hague said the British advisers would not arm or train the rebels, but would help them develop organisational structures, communications and logistics and coordinating humanitarian aid and medical supplies.
Rebels in Libya's besieged city of Misrata have called for Britain and France to send troops to help the fight against Kadhafi's regime.
The rebels in Misrata, which has been under siege for more than a month and seen hundreds killed, have no direct contact with coalition forces, which have nevertheless carried out air strikes on Kadhafi allies besieging the town.
© 2011 AFP