US backs NATO, despite French, British complaints
The United States on Tuesday expressed full confidence in NATO's capacity to carry out the Libya mission, after France and Britain complained they were not getting enough support.
Washington has deliberately ceded its initial leadership role to European powers in the operation to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians in Libya and appears reluctant to get drawn back into the vanguard.
"We have every confidence in NATO's ability to carry out the task of enforcing the arms embargo as well as the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians in Libya," said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.
"As the president said, the US and other key partners had capabilities that they brought to this operation up front, and then our role would diminish as NATO stepped up and took command and control of the operation... that's what's happened."
Toner denied a reporter's suggestion that France and Britain were "ganging up" on Washington as part of an initiative to win more support from US attack forces, and said that NATO was perfectly able to conduct the operation.
"It does have the capability and the structure to carry out a mission like this. And we believe it's doing its job and it's doing it effectively," Toner said.
Toner's comments were echoed by White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said "We have full confidence in NATO's capacity" and deferred questions about specific operations in Libya to the Pentagon.
Britain and France, which waged an outspoken diplomatic campaign for a no-fly zone, against initial US reluctance, complained on Tuesday that the alliance needed to do more to protect civilians in Libya.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet complained that Paris and London had been left to bear "the bulk of the effort," amid calls by rebels for a quicker pace of air strikes against Moamer Kadhafi's forces.
He noted that the United States was now only providing logistical support to the operation after withdrawing its combat jets last week.
"Today we have no support in the ground attack role, without which there's no chance of breaking the siege of towns like Misrata or Zenten," he told the French parliament.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, taking a less forceful tone, noted that London had supplied additional ground-attack aircraft and said he would "welcome if other countries also do the same."
"We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO," Hague said.
© 2011 AFP