“The Americans have the numbers of planes, and the Americans have the right equipment,” said Francois Heisbourg, a military specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
But the Obama administration appeared to reject the possibility of an expanded U.S. military role in the near future. A State Department spokesman insisted Tuesday that NATO was performing adequately in enforcing the no-fly zone, and said the alliance was fine-tuning its tactics to address complaints about the campaign’s effectiveness.
“We have every confidence in NATO’s ability to carry out the task of enforcing the arms embargo as well as the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians in Libya,” the spokesman, Mark Toner, told reporters in Washington.
“The U.S., of course, as needed, would help out if requested in other capacities. But, really, our role has receded,” he said.
Juppe and Hague, in separate comments, urged more NATO countries to dispatch aircraft ready to participate actively in the bombing operations. A European official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said Hague was speaking in particular of restrictions imposed by most contributing governments that have limited many NATO warplanes to secondary roles.
“We must maintain and expand our efforts in NATO,” Hague said upon arriving in Luxembourg for a European Union meeting. “That is why the United Kingdom in the last weeks supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets that threaten the civilian population. Of course, it would be welcome if other countries did the same.”
Juppe, in even more direct remarks on France Info radio before departing for the Luxembourg meeting, also said NATO must increase the effectiveness of its bombing operations. That would help prevent Gaddafi’s forces from shelling the besieged city of Misurata and other contested cities.
“NATO wanted to take over military operations, and we accepted that,” Juppe said. “But it must play its full role. That is to say, it must prevent Gaddafi from using heavy weapons against the civilian population.”
What NATO is doing now, he added, “is not sufficient.”
‘Not enough aircraft’
Seventeen nations, with about 175 planes, have been officially participating in the NATO campaign since the United States stepped back March 31. Of those, only France and Britain are allowing their aircraft to fly without restrictions on their use, noted Jean-Pierre Maulny, a defense expert at the International and Strategic Relations Institute in Paris. Of the other aircraft, some have been barred from bombing, others from hitting vehicles and others from flying attack missions at all, according to reports from Brussels.