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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After urging from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama agreed to help European allies stop a bloodbath in Libya that threatened to reverse the Arab democratic uprisings. Europe is America’s main ally and has responded, if not always robustly, with help on Afghanistan and other needs.Skip to next paragraph
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But while the US opened operations in Libya using “unique capabilities” – the Pentagon said there were 1,600 sorties in two weeks – the US president would not commit to the lead role. This week the tripartite US-France-UK flag on Libya was reduced to just the UK and France.
“Washington has made clear that it does not want to be in the lead in the Libya operation,” says Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “That leaves Europe with two tasks. First, Europeans must step up to the plate and deliver the assets necessary to prosecute the mission. Second, they must demonstrate that they can forge a consensus on the mission's strategy and objectives.”
France, Britain ask for Europe's help
France has been sending about 20 planes a day and says it will increase that number to pick up the slack from US forces. Britain has been sending about half that number. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Britain and France are now calling for help from the rest of Europe.
Paris is also now involved in the Ivory Coast to protect civilians and help dislodge strongman incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down after losing the November presidential election.
Mr. Sarkozy was an important progenitor of the Libyan venture to create a no-fly zone through UN Resolution 1973. However, Sarkozy’s critics say the French president will have to maintain discipline and not get distracted in order to see through the campaign with his British partner.
Different views on Libya emerged this week with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe arguing an affirmative, patient game that involves multiple tactics to dislodge Qaddafi. "The question today is to know under what conditions Qaddafi goes, not how he's going to be able to hold on to power," he said.
While the US is withdrawing its lead role, it is not withdrawing from Libya NATO operations. It will be continuing to use its military assets in a wide range of areas. “America is still there [in NATO], but it is rerouting,” says Crow. “Obama is being shrewd politically which is not something we’ve always seen in American presidents that have wars on their hands.”
One US aircraft that NATO may call on in future is the A-10 “Warthog,” an antitank craft that, while not speedy, can fly low, has great visibility and can emerge from behind hills in an element of surprise. The French and British-made jets are targeting from greater heights.
IN PICTURES: Libya conflict