One month on, NATO admits limits to air war in Libya
NATO acknowledged Tuesday the limits of air power to stop Moamer Kadhafi forces attacking Libya's city of Misrata as France voiced more frustration over the one-month-old bombing campaign.
An alliance general said NATO pilots destroyed a mobile rocket launcher firing on Misrata on Monday night and then struck armoured vehicles advancing towards the rebel-held city, where medics say 1,000 people have been killed.
But Dutch Brigadier General Mark van Uhm conceded that Kadhafi's tactic of using human shields and hiding tanks and other heavy weapons has deterred some NATO missions.
"Within the current mandate and the way we operate or are allowed to operate, using air power to protect Libyan civilians on the ground of course has limitations," he told reporters.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who has already pressed NATO to do more in Libya, said the military pressure should be "maintained and even intensified."
"I am particularly outraged by the fate of Misrata," Juppe said. "The weather conditions have not always been favourable (for air strikes) but a cannon is visible," he said.
As fears of a prolonged stalemate mount, France and Britain, which fired the first shots on March 19 along with the United States, have called on allies to boost their involvement in the air war.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday that Paris, which carries out the bulk of the missions along with Britain, would intensify its own air strikes although he admitted that a political solution was vital.
An influential French lawmaker, and member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, suggested that France should deploy special forces to guide the air strikes against the increasingly elusive targets on the ground.
But Juppe, like British Prime Minister David Cameron before him, ruled out sending boots onto the ground, which is forbidden under the UN mandate authorising "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.
With no end in sight to the conflict, leaders in Paris, London and the United States vowed in a joint letter last week to keep up the campaign until Kadhafi leaves power, but the resilient strongman has defied his one-time allies.
"We are going to have to settle in for the long haul. Bombs won't make him go," said Nick Witney, European Council on Foreign Relations security expert, adding that it was up to the Libyan people to sort out their own future.
"I'm afraid that frustrating though it is, one has to accept that in military terms it is a stalemate, and it is going to stay that way until Libyans negotiate a solution to it. We just have to be patient," he said.
NATO jets and cruise missiles struck Kadhafi's command and control centres late Monday but the 42-year veteran leader remains entrenched in his Tripoli stronghold, while rebels hold fort in their Benghazi bastion in the east.
NATO's top commander called at a meeting of foreign ministers last week for eight more warplanes armed with "smart" bombs. Van Uhm said allies more planes had arrived since Friday but he refused to say how many.
Only six out of 28 nations are conducting air strikes -- France, Britain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark and Norway. Italy and Spain ruled out conducting bombings last week.
The United States has resisted pressure to return to a frontline role after handing control to NATO half way through the first month, but some analysts say Washington will have to come back if the mission is to prevail.
Without the active military support of the United States, "we are realising that this operation has many weaknesses", said Alvaro de Vasconcelos, head of the European Union Institute for Security Studies.
"It is even running short of certain munitions," he said, referring to a Washington Post report that said NATO was faced with a shortage of precision bombs.
Rushing to the aid of Misrata should be a priority and the city could hold the key to the conflict's resolution, analysts say.
"It's a city at the heart of the area controlled by Kadhafi," Vasconcelos said.
"If the international community can protect Misrata and allow insurgents to control the city, it will spell the end for Kadhafi."
© 2011 AFP