NATO says confident of more planes for Libya soon

AP News
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Posted: Apr 15, 2011 4:20 PM
NATO says confident of more planes for Libya soon

NATO's secretary-general said Friday that he soon expects member nations to provide extra ground-attack aircraft to strike Moammar Gadhafi's forces in Libya even though a two-meeting summit of the alliance led to no concrete commitments.

France's defense minister, meanwhile, suggested that any move to oust Gadhafi might require a new U.N. Security Council resolution. But he conceded that any such resolution would likely be blocked by Russia and China, permanent council members who hold veto power.

NATO's top military commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, has said there is a growing need for precision attack aircraft to avoid civilian casualties as Gadhafi's forces camouflage themselves and hide in populated areas to avoid Western airstrikes.

American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details, said the commander is looking for about eight to 10 additional planes.

In an interview with the AP following a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to confirm that number and would not comment on what specific types of planes were needed, but said he was confident that military commanders would get the additional resources soon.

"What we need is a small number of precision aircraft fighters and without going into details, I'm hopeful that nations will step up to the plate," he said, noting that the two-day Berlin meeting was not held to solicit new pledges of support.

"I think all NATO allies realize that of course the operation must be fully resourced."

The need for the additional aircraft comes as the situation has changed on the ground, Fogh Rasmussen said.

"At the beginning we targeted fixed military capacities on the ground _ gradually we have moved into targeting moving targets like tanks, armored vehicles and other military capacities," he said.

"We have also seen Gadhafi change his tactics into using civilian vehicles, hiding tanks and armored vehicles in the cities, using human shields etcetera and all that makes it necessary to gradually adapt our tactics."

The alliance is struggling to overcome differences over the Libya mission, with Britain and France seeking more strikes by other NATO nations, particularly the U.S.

The U.S. says it sees no need to change what it calls a supporting role in the campaign _ even though it has still been flying a third of the missions _ and many other NATO nations have rules preventing them from striking Gadhafi's forces except in self-defense.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said after the meeting that the sides were coming together.

"I think the bottom line is that here at NATO we achieved a solid and sustainable consensus on our objectives and what it will take to achieve them," she said. "I spoke at length with many of my counterparts about the practical steps we all have to take to pressure and isolate Gadhafi and advance our efforts to protect the Libyan people."

Troops loyal to Gadhafi unleashed heavy shelling Friday on Misrata, pushing troops and tanks into the rebel-held western city, a witness said. Elsewhere in Libya, NATO warplanes struck Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte in the east, Libyan TV said.

Fogh Rasmussen downplayed the NATO divisions, pointing out that many alliance nations have had country-specific caveats for years in Afghanistan.

"Our military operations are based on the principle that it is for each individual nation to make a decision as to how their military assets can be used _ it's actually a fundamental principle of NATO," he said. "Obviously from a military point of view our commanders would like a maximum of flexibility in the use of their military assets, but we're used to dealing with that."

NATO airstrikes in Libya began three weeks ago, aimed at protecting civilians from attacks from forces loyal to Gadhafi.

U.S., British and French leaders pledged in a joint statement Friday to maintain the military campaign until Gadhafi leaves office _ something Fogh Rasmussen said NATO fully supports.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said the joint statement suggests movement beyond a U.N. authorization paving the way for the NATO-led use of force only to protect Libyan civilians.

The current U.N. resolution "does not address the future of Gadhafi," Longuet said in Paris. "Perhaps one day the Security Council will make another resolution."

But he told LCI TV that he'd expect countries Russia and China to "drag their feet" on such a resolution, which he did not detail.

The carefully worded joint statement acknowledges the mandate of the current resolution is not to remove Gadhafi by force, while adding it's "impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi in power."

President Barack Obama said a military stalemate existed on the ground in Libya, but the United States and NATO have averted a "wholesale slaughter" and Gadhafi is under increasing pressure to leave.

Obama told The Associated Press he doesn't see a need to resume direct U.S. participation in enforcing the no-fly zone, saying it's assisting with intelligence, jamming and refueling.

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Matthew Lee and Geir Moulson contributed to this report.