Britain, France press NATO allies on Libya strikes
Britain and France called on NATO allies Tuesday to pull their weight in the bombing mission in Libya in a sign of growing disquiet over the campaign as the conflict drags on.
French defence minister Gerard Longuet, whose country was reluctant to hand command of the mission to NATO, complained that Paris and London have been left to bear the brunt of alliance operations.
“NATO is not able, at this point, to oblige our partners to take part in this action,” Longuet told the French parliament.
“I regret, for example, that France and Britain are carrying the bulk of the effort,” he said.
“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 said, referring to two rebel-held towns under bombardment by Moamer Kadhafi’s forces.
NATO has led air strikes against Moamer Kadhafi’s forces for almost two weeks since taking over from a US-led coalition that began bombing the regime’s heavy weaponry on March 19.
“We must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Luxembourg, where European Union foreign ministers also discussed whether to throw EU military resources behind humanitarian aid delivery to Misrata.
“That is why the United Kingdom has in the last week supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets threatening the civilian population of Libya,” Hague said.
“Of course it would be welcome if other countries also do the same,” he said. “There is always more to do.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he would raise Paris’s concerns with NATO chief diplomats meeting in Berlin on Thursday.
“NATO must fully play its role, and it is not doing so sufficiently,” Juppe told France Info radio.
After earlier criticism from Libyan rebels over the pace of strikes, a NATO general, however, said the alliance was doing a “great job” with the assets in hand.
Spain said more contributions were “not necessary,” while Italy said it was considering taking a direct role in strikes, but that its principal concern was the safety of civilians on the ground.
Britain, France and the United States launched the first salvos against the regime after the United Nations authorised military action to stop Kadhafi from harming the population with a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
After NATO took over, the United States pulled its combat jets from the frontline last week, leaving the bombing to European and Canadian allies as it withdrew into a support role by providing surveillance and refuelling planes.
Although NATO has 28 members, not all of them have the capability or desire to take part in the strikes, especially Turkey and Germany, which were opposed to any military intervention from the start.
“With the assets we have, we are doing a great job,” General Mark van Uhm, NATO’s chief of allied operations, said in Brussels.
Van Uhm said it was up to individual nations to decide what they contribute and how their military assets are used by NATO commanders.
“If you get more, you can do more,” he said.
Spain and the Netherlands, for instance, have offered fighter jets but their roles are limited to patrolling a no-fly zone. Kadhafi’s air force was obliterated by the US-led coalition.
Spanish junior minister for European affairs, Diego Lopez Garrido, said the NATO mission was “doing well” and it was “not necessary” for allies to step up military contributions.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he was “perplexed” by the Franco-British criticism. Rome has deployed four attack planes but they are on hold while the parliament decides whether to authorise strikes.
In addition to France and Britain, which have respectively contributed 29 and 10 attack planes, Belgium, Denmark, Canada and Norway are known to be actively taking part in strike missions.