US steps back from Libya, shifting burden to Europe
In order to sustain operations, experts say France and Britain need to forge a broader European consensus on Libya intervention.
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For the first time in NATO’s 62-year history, Uncle Sam is not on the front lines directing the show, but will play a back-up role that includes aerial refueling and emergency support. The unprecedented move accords with longstanding US calls for other nations within the alliance to share the burden on the international scene.
But the effect is slightly jolting in European capitals that have often talked of military leadership but have rarely followed through, or needed to.
IN PICTURES: Libya conflict
For Europe, taking the lead on Libya – a conflict still hazy on aims and outcomes – is a “wake-up call,” say analysts. It is also seen on this side of the Atlantic as a sign of things to come as the US faces budgetary convulsions and global overreach.
The wake-up call for France and Britain
France and Britain signed a bilateral military pact last year, seen as a way to reduce expenditures. But Ms. Crow says events are pushing the two nations, which combined have significant power projection capabilities, into new territory. There's discussion of a six-month no-fly zone, of negotiations, and of use of special forces.
Coalition pilots flying along the coastal road near Ajdabiya, northeast of Brega, yesterday reported difficulty determining friend from foe as the sides rapidly shifted, a problem predicted at the outset of the campaign. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddifi’s forces have used civilian vehicles to conduct operations, making them harder to identify.
Reports in The New York Times today said rebels had been told to paint the roofs of their vehicles yellow, but that many did not. In the chaos on the ground, NATO jets mistakenly hit rebel tanks Thursday, mistaking them as loyalist forces.
"It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in the deaths of a number of [rebel] forces," said the NATO deputy commander, Rear Adm. Russell Harding, today. NATO officials expressed regret for the deaths, but did not formally apologize in order to avoid language that could later have legal implications.
Taking the lead in Washington's absence
Today British Foreign Minister William Hague said the Libya operation has reached a second phase: “maintaining” a no-fly zone. British government leaks today suggest that a number of planned cuts in the British defense budget may be rethought. The language in London this week is that budget cuts have not accounted for "world events."