NATO eyes Libya endgame

8th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

NATO leaders will press memberss of the alliance Wednesday to step up contributions in the Libyan air war amid a relentless wave of bombings in Tripoli to finally dislodge Moamer Kadhafi.

With NATO fighting in two continents, defence ministers meeting for two days of talks in Brussels were to discuss the nearly three-month-old campaign in Libya as well as the nearly 10-year-old ground battle in Afghanistan.

The ministers will later Wednesday meet with their Russian counterpart for discussions on a missile shield for Europe. A Russian envoy met with Libyan rebels on Tuesday although Moscow said it would not be the lead mediator.

While the alliance is looking to start a drawdown of ground forces in Afghanistan in July, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and others wants NATO members that have taken a backseat in Libya to participate more in the mission.

"We want to see increased urgency in some quarters in terms of Libya," British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said on arrival for the talks.

"The United Kingdom has been very forward-leaning, very clear that we want to see the Libyan people safe from the excesses of the Kadhafi regime. We will want to push that point today," he said.

Although Kadhafi still controls much of western Libya including his Tripoli stronghold, NATO says it is only a matter of time before he goes and it has increased the pressure with daily strikes on Tripoli to hasten that day.

A wave of NATO air strikes battered Tripoli again early Wednesday, piling pressure on Kadhafi, who in an audio broadcast said he was "near" the bombing but vowed never to surrender.

Only eight of the alliance's 28 members, plus non-NATO partner the United Arab Emirates, have conducted air strikes. France and Britain have carried out the bulk of the air raids.

Others take part in other aspects of the mission, but around a dozen have not contributed any assets.

"Obviously some of those allies and partners carrying the heavy burden start to ask whether it would be possible to broaden the participation a bit, and that's the point I will focus on at the defence ministers meeting," Rasmussen said Monday.

NATO has vowed to keep pounding the Kadhafi regime as long as civilians are threatened and is already thinking about what role it will have the day after the veteran strongman falls, as it predicts he inevitably will.

US Admiral Samuel Locklear, a senior NATO commander, suggested last week that a small force might be necessary after Kadhafi leaves power. The troops, he added, could be provided by the UN, the European Union or NATO.

"We are not pursuing planning on that, we are having discussions about it because we may or (may) not have to do something quickly," he said.

Rasmussen said NATO could help reform Libya's defence and security sector but he did not see a "major role" for the alliance, leaving the task of guiding the Libyans in a democratic transition to the United Nations.

© 2011 AFP

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