French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a closed-door meeting Thursday whether the United States could contribute additional fighter planes to the effort but did not receive an encouraging response.
“I got the sense that the Americans will stick to their same line,” Juppe said. “That is, to maintain their current policy of intervening with forces as they are needed, depending on the situation and where the assets they have are particularly useful.”
U.S. officials have pushed back against such demands, saying that NATO has not yet asked the United States directly for additional assets and pointing out that they are already supplying many support-type planes. They also say they believe other countries will eventually come forward.
U.S. officials had hoped to use the two-day NATO summit to bridge such emerging differences in the coalition.
“Gaddafi is testing our determination,” Clinton told other foreign ministers during the summit. “As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important.”
At a Thursday morning news briefing ahead of the summit, U.S. officials insisted that NATO commanders in charge of the operation have everything they need.
“If the commanders feel they need more capability, the commanders will ask for more capability. That’s not what they are doing so far,” said a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
During the Berlin meeting, however, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said commanders had indeed sought more military assets, specifically requesting equipment capable of precision attacks on ground forces.
According to Rasmussen, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, Adm. James Stavridis, told foreign ministers that while NATO has the overall assets required for the mission, its military needs have changed with recent shifts in Gaddafi’s strategy.
“We had great initial success bombing his tanks, but we’re encountering problems now that Gaddafi’s moving his heavy armor closer to civilian populations,” said a Western diplomat involved in the discussions. According to that official, NATO now needs about eight more planes capable of precision bombing, such as the U.S. F-15 or F-16 or similarly equipped aircraft from other countries.
Spain and Italy have planes helping to enforce the no-fly zone, but both countries said Thursday they did not plan to step up their role to include ground strikes.