NATO Libya coalition shows cracks as France, Britain call for increased strikes on Gaddafi forces

April 14, 2011

French and British leaders met in Paris to discuss ways to convince NATO coalition countries to increase their support for strikes against forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gaddafi. As Edward Cody reported:

• The splintered coalition of nations engaged in a four-week-old air campaign over Libya struggled Wednesday to come up with new tactics to topple Moammar Gaddafi without resorting to further Western engagement in Libya’s back-and-forth civil war.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, the vanguard of intervention in favor of rebel forces, met at the Elysee Palace with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The two leaders have been the main actors in the NATO-led air war since the United States handed over leadership March 31 and pulled back most of its aircraft into a support role.

Their goal, a British official said, was to find ways to persuade other NATO nations to invest more aircraft and political capital in the bombing campaign, now being shouldered overwhelmingly by British and French warplanes. Although more than 175 aircraft from 17 nations have joined the coalition, most governments have surrounded their participation with restrictions that prevent them from carrying out effective strike missions against Gaddafi’s forces.

Meanwhile in Berlin, talks began on NATO’s role in Libya. The United States began the summit by resisting calls for greater engagement in Libya. As William Wan and Leila Fadel explained:

• At a two-day summit of NATO nations that opened here Thursday, U.S. officials played down emerging rifts among allies and said they planned to use the meeting to work toward bridging those differences.

Since the United States turned over command of the Libya military operation to NATO, there has been growing criticism from some in the coalition — with the loudest complaints coming from France and Britain — that other allies need to commit more forces and engage more directly in helping Libya’s rebel opposition battle Gaddafi.

U.S. officials, however, have pushed back against such demands and insist that NATO commanders in charge of the operation have everything they need.

On the ground in Libya witnesses reported that pro-Gaddafi forces shelled the Western port city of Misrata. As AP reported:

• Gaddafi’s troops unleashed heavy shelling for three hours on the port city of Misrata, which is partly held by rebels who are defending positions against government forces. Gaddafi’s troops have laid siege to the city, taking control of some neighborhoods. The port is Misrata’s only lifeline.

At least 13 people — all civilians — were killed and an unknown number were wounded when scores of Grad rockets struck in Libya’s third-largest city of Misrata, said a doctor there who gave his name only as Ayman.

“They want to flatten the area to deploy the troops on foot and invade the city,” the doctor said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. He added that a ship sent by Doctors Without Borders to evacuate 165 critically injured people to Tunisia had been scheduled to arrive Thursday morning at Misrata’s port, and he believed the government had shelled the port to interfere with the humanitarian aid.

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