US gets its wish: NATO to assume control of Libya no-fly zone

NATO's agreement to take over no-fly operations in Libya fulfills Obama's promise that US involvement would be limited. Alliance members authorize a 'civilian protection mission.'

Yves Logghe/AP
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses the media at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday. NATO announced on Thursday that it is taking control of the military operation to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

NATO countries agreed Thursday to a plan that will allow the United States to hand over command and control of the no-fly zone in Libya.

A last-minute objection by Turkey on what it feared would be a broad interpretation of a mandate to protect Libyan civilians put off at least once an announcement by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that agreement had been reached.

But by Thursday night, Mr. Rasmussen announced at NATO headquarters in Brussels that all of the alliance’s 28 member states had agreed to NATO taking over responsibilities for the United Nations-authorized no-fly zone.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed the transfer of command and control to NATO and said members of the alliance had agreed to authorize NATO authorities to undertake a “broader civilian protection mission.” The precise terms of that mission, however, will be defined in the coming days.

NATO is “well suited,” Mrs. Clinton said, to assume responsibility for the broader mission. In a statement from the State Department, she also praised the Arab League for its contributions and announced that the United Arab Emirates plans to join the international efforts on behalf of Libyan civilians.

Turkish officials had said earlier in the day that agreement had been reached on NATO taking over enforcement of the no-fly zone, which is designed to halt air assaults on Libya civilians by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Turkey sought assurances

But Turkey, which is NATO’s only Muslim member – and considered by the US an essential Muslim participant in the Libyan operations – apparently balked and said it wanted additional reassurances that the authorization to protect Libyan civilians would not be broadly interpreted.

Turkey earlier clashed with France over a plan backed by Paris that would separate “political control” of the operation from military command. Turkish officials said Thursday morning they were satisfied the Libyan mission would have a “unified” command.

IN PICTURES: Libya uprising

Pentagon officials said, meanwhile, that transfer of command from a US-led coalition of countries would take place over the weekend.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday afternoon that some details of the command transfer remained to be worked out. But he told journalists the hand-off from US command would occur within days – thus fulfilling, he said, President Obama’s insistence when the operation was announced that US command would be limited and would end once implementation of the no-fly zone evolved into enforcement.

US participation in the operation will continue in a reduced manner once command is transferred, Mr. Carney said, but it will be in such second-tier capacities as providing intelligence and jamming military communications.

Clinton, too, in her statement Thursday night, said that the administration had adhered to Mr. Obama’s mandate that the US role be limited in time and scope, noting that there had already been a reduction in the participation of US aircraft.

She is expected to travel to London Tuesday to participate in an international meeting called by British Foreign Minister William Hague to take up coordination of operations aimed at halting Qaddafi’s offensives.

Put Qaddafi on notice

The meeting is expected to draw the foreign ministers and other high-level officials of a number of Arab and Muslim countries, and is designed in part to put Qaddafi on notice that the forces arrayed against him are not just the “colonial powers” he claims publicly to be after him.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a session of the Security Council that he sees no signs Qaddafi is letting up on his attacks on Libyan civilians.

At the same time, the secretary general said he had information that Libyan government officials were planning to meet with representatives of the country’s rebels at a meeting Friday of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The warring parties are expected to discuss the possibility of a cease-fire that would allow for talks on a political solution to the conflict, Mr. Ban said. But he underscored that his special envoy on Libya, former Jordanian foreign minister Abdul Ilah Khatib, has found no signs that Qaddafi is honoring the cease-fire he claims to have imposed.

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