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NATO patrols Libya coast, still divided over command

US sailors man the rails as the USS Bataan, the lead ship in the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, pulls out of the Norfolk, Virgina, US Naval Base March 23, 2011 enroute to waters off Libya. The USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship, deployed ahead of schedule to relieve other US ships in the waters off Libya. Photo courtesy AFP.

Britain slams talk of 'cavalier' raids over Libya
Jakarta March 23, 2011 - A British defence minister on Wednesday slammed as "rubbish" allegations that pilots carrying out UN-mandated air strikes in Libya have a cavalier approach to civilian casualties. Minister for international security strategy Gerald Howarth was responding to a question from an Indonesian reporter during a visit to Jakarta to attend a defence conference. "Any idea that there is some sort of cavalier approach is absolute rubbish, there is not," Howarth said when the reporter for local news weekly Tempo told him that "many civilians have become the victims" of UN-authorised air strikes. "I repeat the purpose of this is to protect the civilian population. Why therefore would we be engaging in anything which threatens the civilian population?"

He noted that two British Tornado jets had pulled back from attacking Libyan air defence systems because "they saw civilians near the target." British and French aircraft were equipped with "some extremely accurate weapons ... designed to limit collateral damage," he added. Howarth said that without the international air campaign Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's forces would have bombarded and captured the rebel-held eastern town of Benghazi. The military action is being taken under a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone in the north African country. Kadhafi's spokesmen say the bombing has resulted in civilian casualties but the coalition -- including Britain, Canada, France and the United States -- denies this.

"People should take great encouragement from the UN because the United Nations was able to respond ... It would have been a dereliction of duty not to have responded," Howarth said. "The people in Benghazi undoubtedly owe their protection to the actions of the coalition... and ultimately to the United Nations." China and Russia -- which did not use their vetoes to block the UN resolution -- on Tuesday said the air strikes were causing civilian casualties and called for an immediate ceasefire. In talks with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev voiced dismay over what he called the "indiscriminate use of force" by coalition aircraft in Libya. Gates responded to reporters that it was "almost as though some people here are taking at face value Kadhafi's ... outright lies."
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) March 23, 2011
NATO warships began patrolling Libya's coast on Wednesday to enforce an arms embargo against Moamer Kadhafi, but fresh efforts to give the alliance command of military operations collapsed.

After days of sometimes acrimonious debate, ambassadors of the 28-nation alliance failed again to agree on whether NATO should take charge of an operation that has been run by a US-led coalition, a NATO diplomat said.

The diplomat said the envoys would take another stab at it on Thursday, the same day European leaders gather across town in Brussels for a two-day summit, also divided over the four-day bombing campaign.

France's insistence on placing political control of the no-fly zone in the hands of a committee of coalition nations, while giving NATO a subsidiary role, has posed problems for some countries.

Turkey, which has criticised the Western strikes in Libya, "doesn't want to sign on to a NATO mission while there is another coalition going on," a Western official said.

The French plan could also pose a problem for the Americans, who are eager to hand the reins to someone else but could never allow a US general to answer to both NATO and a coalition not led by the United States, the official said.

Italy's foreign ministry said France was being "instransigent."

Despite the row over who should be running the broader military operations, Turkey was among a group of six NATO nations that offered 16 vessels, including three submarines, to enforce a UN arms embargo off Libya's coast.

Six ships reached international waters off Libya while patrol aircraft and fighter jets headed to the area to provide long-range surveillance and intercept flights suspected of carrying weapons, NATO said.

The NATO mission has the authority to intercept and board suspicious ships, and even fire a warning shot across the bow of vessels trying to slip away, a NATO official said.

Several NATO nations that are taking part in the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya want the military alliance to take the reins from the international coalition led by the United States, France and Britain.

The operations have been intense, with Britain saying the bombing campaign that started Saturday had almost obliterated Libya's air force, while the US military said ground troops loyal to Kadhafi were now being targetted.

The three powers leading the assault had appeared close to a compromise on who should take over command, with France proposing that political control rest in the hands of a committee of coalition countries while NATO would be left with planning and operational duties.

France and Britain announced that the "contact group" of coalition nations would meet in London on Tuesday, with the participation of all other partners in the military campaign plus the African Union and the Arab League.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who has warned that running the operation under the NATO flag could alienate Arab allies, said it was important to "make clear that the political leadership is not NATO, but the contact group."

But Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who has warned that Rome could take back control of air bases being used by the coalition unless NATO takes charge, insisted on a "single chain of command under NATO."

Foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari added: "There is some resistance among NATO member states. France has been the most intransigent."

"Europe has divided. This isn't anti-French. We are talking about an important mission in which Europe has to act together to be credible," he said.

earlier related report
Italy criticises 'intransigent' France over Libya
Rome (AFP) March 23, 2011 - Italy on Wednesday said France was being "intransigent" about handing over command of military operations over Libya to NATO and condemned its recognition of the Libyan interim national council.

"We have to return to the rules with a single chain of command under NATO," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in a speech to the Senate.

Frattini said there could be "a dialogue of national reconciliation" in Libya but only after a ceasefire had been put in place.

Foreign ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari added: "There is some resistance among NATO member states. France has been the most intransigent."

"Europe has divided. This isn't anti-French. We are talking about an important mission in which Europe has to act together to be credible," he said.

Massari also criticised France's decision earlier this month to recognise the Interim National Council (INC) as Libya's "legitimate representative."

"We are not okay with a country deciding this autonomously, without agreeing with the others," he said.

"We think it is difficult that the council can be recognised as the legitimate government for the whole of Libya," he added.

NATO nations meeting in Brussels on Wednesday offered an armada of ships and submarines to enforce an arms embargo against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, but a row over who should run the entire Libya campaign remains unsettled.

earlier related report
Libya conflict to have minimal impact on US budget
Washington (AFP) March 23, 2011 - Military operations in Libya will have only a small impact on the US budget even though 11 warships are helping the effort and over 160 Tomahawk missiles have been fired, a top admiral said Wednesday.

"From my standpoint in the Navy, because we're not mobilizing or sending more forces forward, all of these are relatively minor increases in costs," said Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead.

Many warships and American aircraft are constantly positioned around the world to deal with any potential crisis, and the cost of such deployments is already factored into the defense budget.

With 11 warships, including three submarines, and dozens of aircraft from the Army, Navy and Marines already deployed, the United States has so made the largest contribution to the operation against the forces of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

"When you look at the expenses of what we in the Navy incurred, given the fact that the forces were already there, those costs are sunk for me. I'm already paying for that," Roughead said.

"Did we incur some additional flying hours? Yes, but, for example, the Growlers that we brought in were flying in Iraq anyway so those flying hours were being burned."

A squadron of some five EA-18G Growlers, carrier-based electronic warfare aircraft, are tasked with taking out radar systems and jamming enemy communications.

Two destroyers and three submarines have fired some 162 Tomahawks missiles at Libyan targets since Saturday. With each one costing almost $650,000, the total cost so far comes to more than 100 million dollars.

But Roughead also sought to downplay the expense. "The Tomahawks that were shot, they're part of our current inventory. There are ample replacements for those in the inventory," he said.

The Navy budget has already factored in the cost of replacing each missile fired. And the US arsenal includes some 3,000 Tomahawks, he added.

And even if several dozen bombs have already been dropped on Libya, hundreds or even thousands have been discharged in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003.

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