Italy and France join UK sending advisers to Libya, testing limits of UN resolution

In addition to dispatching military experts with Italy and Britain, France has pledged to increase airstrikes as Europe steps up military operations in Libya.

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    A French Air Force pilot climbs into the cockpit of his Mirage fighter jet at Malta International Airport on April 20.
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A day after Britain announced it would send military experts to Libya to train rebels, France and Italy have made similar statements that together show a growing frustration in Europe with a stalemate in the Libyan conflict.

By sending advisers who will establish a direct link with the rebels, London, Paris, and Rome appear to be testing the limits of UN Resolution 1973, which authorizes member states to take all necessary measures short of a foreign occupation to protect civilians under attack in Libya.

“There is a real risk of mission creep," says Alessandro Marrone, researcher at the Institute of International Affairs (IAI) in Rome. “I don’t think anyone in France or Italy is concerned about a ground invasion of Libya – that has been explicitly ruled out. But if military advisers on the ground help the Libyan rebels or even help coordinate NATO airstrikes, that’s changing the role of the mission.”

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French government spokesman Francois Baroin told a news briefing that his country would place 10 liaison officers with the Libyan opposition to organize the protection of the civilian population.

That announcement came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met the leader of the opposition Libyan National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, at the Élysée Palace in Paris. During that meeting, Sarkozy promised to intensify the air attacks in Libya. “We will help you," Mr. Sarkozy told Abdel Jalil, according to an Élysée statement.

In Rome, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa told reporters that Col. Muammar Qaddafi would only leave power if he were forced out. Italy would send 10 military trainers to help rebel forces, the minister said after a conversation with his British colleague Liam Fox. Britain is reportedly sending up to 20 advisers, while France is sending an unspecified “small number."

There is little doubt among Western observers that the intent of the advisers in Libya is to break the deadlock on the ground, says Etienne de Durand, director of Security Studies at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).

“These rebel fighters are no soldiers, they need training in basic military skills – they need boot camp," says Mr. Durand. “As long as they don’t have these skills, they cannot take advantage of the NATO airstrikes.”

Advisers could make a key difference, and their deployment would have the additional effect of sending a strong message to Colonel Qaddafi, Durand says. “It sends a signal that we are serious, that we are committed, and that there is no way the Qaddafi regime can prevail militarily.”

While Britain, France, and Italy are increasing the pressure on Qaddafi, NATO as a whole is still unable to find a common strategy.

Germany, Europe’s strongest economy though militarily not a significant force, will not be drawn into the conflict, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle repeated today. “A military solution in Libya is unlikely,” Mr. Westerwelle told reporters, “only the political process will bring an end to this conflict."

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