28 MAR 2011
Allies agree to hand over complete control of military campaign but Germany and Turkey still have reservations
Ian Traynor in Brussels and Julian Borger | The Guardian
Nato has agreed to take over the air campaign against ground targets in Libya, putting the alliance in command of all operations and supplanting the coalition of the US, France and Britain that has attacked Muammar Gaddafi's forces for the past week.
The 28 ambassadors of Nato's policy-making North Atlantic council met in Brussels to agree the rules of engagement for the air campaign aimed at protecting civilians against Gaddafi's onslaught, with Turkey and Germany keen to narrow the scope of the operations and France bristling at any constraints on its more gung-ho approach.
The decision means that Nato will take charge of all three aspects of the Libya campaign – enforcing a no-fly zone and arms embargo as well as prosecuting the air campaign on ground targets. The decision, capping a week of squabbling over Nato's role, came in advance of a conference in Londonon Tuesday bringing together more than 40 foreign ministers and international organisations aimed at plotting Libya's future.
"Nato allies have decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya," said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato's secretary general. "Nothing more, nothing less. This is a very significant step."
While Nato has arrived relatively quickly at a consensus on the Libyan campaign, non-stop meetings in Brussels since last Monday have also exposed divisions and stirred furious argument, with France particularly in disagreement with Germany and Turkey.
The Americans are keen to take a back seat on Libya after a week in which they have dominated operations and decisions, meaning that the course of the campaign against Gaddafi will be an unprecedented test for the European side of Nato.
Amid persistent French attempts to belittle Nato's role and make the alliance military machine subservient to a smaller core political leadership of a "coalition of the willing", senior Nato diplomats said the alliance takeover would be undiluted. "There's a clear understanding that the totality of the operation is handed to Nato," said a senior diplomat in Brussels. "No more, no less. When Nato takes over, the coalition is over."
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