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NATO says it ‘has the resources’ to maintain Libya mission

NATO on assured Tuesday it has sufficient resources to continue its air campaign in Libya, despite fears the alliance could run out of steam as Moamer Khadafi digs in his heels.

Amid signs of military strain in the three-month war effort, NATO moved to reassure it could maintain its mission to ground Kadhafi’s air force and limit the regime’s ability to launch attacks against civilians.

“We continue to maintain a high tempo of operation,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told reporters.

“It is clear that NATO has the resources to keep up the pressure on the Kadhafi regime. We know it takes time.”

The assurances came days after outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates admonished NATO allies, saying shrinking military budgets put both the Libya mission and the alliance’s future at risk.

“Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines (in Libya) do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they cannot. The military capabilities simply aren’t there,” Gates said in Brussels on Friday.

In illustration, Norway last week announced a cutback in its participation — of six F-16 fighter jets — amid reports Denmark was running out of bombs and had asked the Netherlands to help replenish its stock.

Tuesday, senior brass from Britain and France, key players in the Libya campaign, publicly worried about how to maintain an operation just extended a further three months from June 27.

“How long can we go on as we are in Libya?” Britain’s First Sea Lord, Admiral Mark Stanhope, asked.

“Certainly in terms of NATO’s current time limit that has been extended to 90 days, we are comfortable with that. Beyond that, we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities.”

In similar comments, a top NATO commander, French General Stephane Abrial, said the issue of resources “will become critical” if the conflict drags on.

The country’s sole aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, for example will have to be taken out of service for the whole of 2012 if deployed off Libya until the end of this year, said Navy chief, Admiral Pierre-Francois Forissier.

France is spending 1.2 million euros ($1.7 million) a day in Libya, defence ministry sources said.

“Should resources be used to reduce public deficits or for the operation in Libya? This is a real political choice,” said consultant Joseph Henrotin of the Paris-based Centre for Risk Analysis and Forecast. (CAPRI).

Gates last week also said many allies lacked intelligence and surveillance aircraft and specialists, which meant the US military had to step in to ensure that allied fighter jets could identify and strike targets.

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country — yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference,” Gates said.

With only eight of the alliance’s 28 members conducting air strikes in Libya, the NATO spokeswoman said members are partners currently were “considering how they can best provide the necessary resources to see this mission through.”

South Africa meanwhile blasted NATO over the strikes saying they were targeted at toppling Kadhafi and staging political killings.

President Jacob Zuma told parliament Tuesday that a UN resolution meant to protect civilians was being “abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation.”