Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pace of Attacks in Libya Conflict Is Dividing NATO

(New York Times) - WASHINGTON — With the United States limiting itself to a supporting role in the conflict in Libya, fissures opened among NATOallies on Tuesday over the scope and intensity of attacks against the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, officials here and in Europe said.

On the eve of two important meetings this week, France and Britain openly called on the alliance and its partners to intensify airstrikes on Libyan government troops to protect civilians, prompting an usual public retort from NATO’s command that it was carrying out the military operation under the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorized force.

“As long as regime forces continue attacking their own people, we will intervene to protect them,” Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada, the NATO operational commander, said in Naples, Italy. “NATO’s resolve is in its mandate to protect the civilian population.”

Arriving for talks in Luxembourg with other European leaders, the British foreign minister, William Hague, said that the allies had to “maintain and intensify” the military effort, noting that Britain had already deployed extra ground attack planes.

“Of course, it would be welcome if other countries also did the same,” Mr. Hague said.

His remarks, echoed by Foreign Minister Alain Juppé of France, reflected what officials have described as a complex and at times convoluted coalition, with many participating countries refusing to carry out airstrikes against forces on the ground, even as their planes patrol the skies over Libya.

Britain and France, for example, are now flying the bulk of the attack missions, with Norway, Denmark and Canada also striking Libyan targets on the ground. But other countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are taking less aggressive roles, enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya or conducting reconnaissance missions, in a nod to political considerations back home.

The varying tactics reflect the different ways in which each country in the coalition views the mission, and how tough it has been to corral all the participants into focused attacks.

In Washington, Obama administration officials sought to tamp down a growing sense of concern among some military analysts that the combination of the Americans’ back-seat role, NATO’s inexperience in waging a complicated air campaign against moving targets and botched communications with the ragtag rebel army had thrown the mission into disarray. In the past week, NATO pilots were involved in two friendly-fire instances that killed well over a dozen rebel fighters.