By Adrian Croft
BERLIN (Reuters) - British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday he was hopeful other NATO members would provide more ground attack planes for the Libya mission, even though some have rebuffed calls to do more.
"I'm hopeful ... There are certainly quite a few countries that don't rule out doing so and that may well give consideration to it ... It does need us to follow it up," Hague told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin.
Britain and France have been prodding other NATO allies to provide more combat aircraft after the United States reduced its role following NATO's March 31 takeover of the mandate from a coalition of Washington, London and Paris.
Libyan rebels begged for more NATO air strikes on Thursday, saying they faced a massacre from government artillery barrages in the besieged city of Misrata [ID:nLDE73D00A].
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance's supreme commander, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, needed "a few more precision ground attack aircraft."
Hague said he was pleased NATO had recognized the need for more combat aircraft. There was no need for "huge additional numbers" of combat planes but for "numbers that it would be entirely within the capability of NATO nations and their allies to provide," he said.
Hague said he had been talking to some countries, which he did not name, about the issue and would be following up on it during the remainder of the two-day NATO meeting.
"HUGE" U.S. CONTRIBUTION
Asked if U.S. forces could resume attacks on Gaddafi forces, Hague said: "The United States is making a huge contribution. It's still flying a high proportion of all the sorties, involved in the logistical support in the no-fly zone as well ... It's not unreasonable to ask other nations ... to make additional contributions," he said.
Asked about reports of NATO strikes on the Libyan capital Tripoli on Thursday, Hague said: "There will continue to be strikes against regime forces that may threaten civilians wherever they are in Libya. Those can happen in any place at any time where there are Gaddafi forces operating.
"So it doesn't of itself indicate a strategic change."
Hague said Britain had been worried about the situation in Misrata, Libya's third largest city, "from the beginning."
"Because the fighting is at such close quarters it has horrendous results," he said. "That is the most difficult area for us to resolve the problem because we are so concerned to minimize civilian casualties that it makes it difficult to attack the regime forces that are so close to the people they are killing and wounding.
"If we were to change that policy and the result was that NATO action resulted in the deaths of large numbers of civilians ... I think that would be very damaging to our cause," he said.
Hague said NATO had carried out air strikes targeted at Gaddafi forces around Misrata over the last few days which had "certainly done some damage to the regime forces."