US hails 'extraordinary' French, British roles in Libya
Britain and France played "extraordinary" roles in NATO's air war in Libya but the United States provided the critical assets that ensured its success, the US ambassador to NATO said Thursday.
"We're clearly getting near to the end of the operation," said ambassador Ivo Daalder, nearly six months since NATO took over a mission to protect civilians from Moamer Kadhafi's forces.
British and French aircraft flew one-third of some 22,000 sorties while their warplanes hit 40 percent of the 5,000 military targets that NATO destroyed in Libya, Daalder said.
"France and the United Kingdom did an extraodinary job and they were equally indispensable to the success of this operation," Daalder told reporters.
While around half of NATO members contributed military assets to the operation, only eight conducted air strikes: the United States, France, Britain, Canada, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Belgium.
Daalder highlighted the roles played by Belgium, Denmark and Norway, saying that combined they bombed as many targets as France despite their relatively small air forces.
Britain and France spearheaded the air war against Kadhafi's forces in Libya, launching the first salvos under a coalition led by the United States on March 19.
But with the United States bogged down in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama handed command of Libya operations to NATO on March 31.
Despite the handover, the US military provided three-quarters of the refuelling planes and reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft, while US unmanned drones were deployed to provide high-precision targeting.
US warplanes and cruise missiles were also central in taking out Kadhafi's air defences, allowing NATO warplanes to fly over safer skies in Libya.
"Each of these elements were absolutely critical to the success of the operation," Daalder said, noting that US planes flew a quarter of nearly 22,000 sorties, more than any other nation.
Daalder said NATO would continue its mission as long as Kadhafi loyalists pose a threat to civilians. The alliance's second 90-day mandate ends on September 27, but he said NATO would renew it if the threat remained.
While rebels hunt for Kadhafi, who aired another defiant audio tape on Thursday, Daalder said it was unclear whether his capture would necessarily prompt his followers to raise the white flag.
"It isn't clear that if he were to be taken out that the whole thing would necessarily collapse; we just don't know that. We do know that if he doesnt have the capability to pose a threat to civilians, then it doesnt really matter," Daalder said.
© 2011 AFP