France pushes NATO allies to provide more Libya jets

13th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

France will push NATO allies at a key meeting on Thursday to contribute more warplanes to the bombing mission in Libya and speed up the air strikes, a French official said Wednesday.

Only six out of NATO's 28 members are conducting air strikes to protect the population from Moamer Kadhafi's forces, while French and British warplanes are carrying out half of the offensive missions, the official said.

"We must collectively be able to carry out our mission, which is to protect the population," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

A gap was created when the United States pulled back around 50 combat planes on April 4 after it handed over control of the mission to NATO. Washington now provides intelligence as well as logistical and air refuelling capabilities.

"Allies have the means to fill the gap," the French official said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who has complained that NATO was not doing enough in Libya, will press his case at a meeting of alliance chief diplomats in Berlin on Thursday and Friday.

NATO commanders asked alliance nations to provide more aircraft capable of taking out ground targets a few days ago to close the gap, a senior NATO diplomat said.

The shortfall is now of less than a dozen aircraft and the "gap is narrowing" as allies are coming forward with offers, the diplomat said, adding that the mission is not under-resourced.

In addition to France and Britain, which have respectively contributed 29 and 10 attack planes, Belgium, Denmark, Canada and Norway actively take part in strike missions, according to military sources.

The French official said that while NATO's rules of engagement are "as robust" as those followed by the Western coalition that led the first phase of the mission, the alliance is slower in carrying out the missions.

"The dynamic targeting, within a few hours, of bombing targets is harder to conduct," the official said.

He said NATO needed to "shorten as much as possible the cycle" of strike missions.

© 2011 AFP

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