NATO strives to end split over Libya command

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BRUSSELS: NATO strives again Thursday to resolve a squabble over transferring command to the alliance of military operations in Libya from a US-led coalition pounding Moamer Qaddafi’s regime.

The latest effort was stymied late Wednesday during a new round of marathon talks among ambassadors of the 28-nation alliance, partly because Turkey says the coalition bombings must stop first, a diplomat said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, however, said Thursday that the US, British and French air strikes against Libya had been a "success" and would continue. Britain said Libya’s air force was almost obliterated.

NATO envoys were to meet again on the same day European leaders gather across town in Brussels for a two-day summit, also divided over the conflict.

Despite the row, NATO has drawn up the outlines of what its command structure would look like if and when it takes over the no-fly zone, another alliance diplomat said.

Several NATO nations want the alliance to take over command of the entire campaign, and US officials say they want to hand off responsibility to someone else within days.

France, however, is insisting on leaving political control of the mission in the hands of an international coalition while NATO would run day-to-day operations, arguing that flying the mission under the Western military organization’s flag would alienate Arab allies.

France and Britain announced that a political "contact group" of coalition nations would meet in London on Tuesday, with the participation of all other partners in the military campaign plus the African Union and the Arab League.

Italy, calling for a single chain of command under NATO, said France was being "intransigent."

Turkey, which has criticized the Western strikes in Libya, "doesn’t want to sign on to a NATO mission while there is another coalition going on," a Western official said.

Germany has also refused to take part in any military intervention, even refusing to back the UN Security Council resolution last week that called for "all necessary measures" to stop Qaddafi from killing civilians.

A compromise under discussion would allow countries opposed to the strikes to opt out of such operations while those that want can continue the attacks, a diplomat said.

Under a blueprint currently on the table, the day-to-day operational command would be located at NATO’s base in Naples, Italy, with sub-commands for naval operations in the same location and for the no-fly zone at Poggio Renatico in northern Italy, the diplomat said.

Although NATO is struggling to agree on a no-fly zone, the alliance has deployed warships off Libya’s coast to enforce an arms embargo, with Turkey offering to contribute five warships and a submarine.

Germany suspended the participation of its warships in NATO operations in the Mediterranean in order to stay out of the patrols off Libya.


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