US resists pressure from Europe's hawks to boost role in Libya fight
France and Britain, displeased with pace of operations to check Qaddafi in Libya, want the US and other NATO members to step up their roles. NATO foreign ministers meet Thursday in Berlin to assess the mission.
(Page 2 of 2)
On Tuesday Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, pointedly called on “other countries” within NATO to step up and provide more air power for the campaign, as Britain has done. That plea reflects the conclusion of some military analysts who say the NATO effort is lacking both in the number and types of aircraft it has deployed.Skip to next paragraph
A coalition of 17 countries is participating in the campaign, but most of them – including the US – are restricting their aircraft to reconnaissance and other nonstrike missions. Only four countries – France, Britain, Norway, and Denmark – are carrying out the bombing missions against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.
Some of the planes the US pulled out of the campaign after the initial week of bombing are the kind of low-flying, precision fighters the NATO mission needs as Qaddafi shifts to fighting with tanks and artillery, say some military analysts.
But the US is showing no signs of yielding to pressure to return to a front-row role in Libya.
At the Pentagon on Tuesday, spokesman Col. David Lapan said the 28-member NATO alliance had not made any request to the US to resume its participation in the bombing mission in Libya. At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said the US would “help out if requested in other capacities” but added that the US role “has receded.”
The White House is keen on sticking to the subordinate role for several reasons, analysts say. President Obama wants to avoid the image of an America leading a third war in a Muslim country, for one thing. He also sees Libya as more of an European interest, given its proximity and economic ties to Europe. With the US role in Libya already having cost more than $600 million, according to the Pentagon, Mr. Obama sees a budgetary reason to limit it, analysts say.
The State Department’s Mr. Toner insisted the US has “every confidence” in NATO’s ability to carry out its three core tasks in Libya: enforcing the no-fly zone, enforcing a UN-mandated arms embargo, and protecting Libya’s civilian population from pro-Qaddafi forces.
It’s the latter task – and the disagreements within the coalition over how much international forces should do to that end – that is likely to set off fireworks at NATO’s Berlin meeting and beyond.
IN PICTURES: Libya conflict