NATO to enforce Libya no-fly zone, but coalition remains (UPDATE)
Details added (the first version was posted at 02:32)
NATO announced late Thursday it would take over enforcement of a United Nations-mandated no-fly zone over Libya, but the international coalition that has led action so far appeared poised to continue conducting separate airstrikes against the country, dpa reported.
Since Saturday, the impromptu coalition directed by the United States and aided by a number of countries, including Britain and France, has taken out both Libyan air defences and Libyan ground forces in order to prevent attacks on civilians.
"We have taken on the responsibility for the no-fly zone, while the coalition still continues its activities," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told US news channel CNN.
"This means right at this moment you will have two operations," he added, indicating that discussions would continue on putting NATO in charge of both operations, "but that decision has not been made yet."
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was working to move to a supporting role in the international military action over Libya and hand over increasing responsibility to NATO.
"We have agreed to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO," Clinton said after NATO's announcement. Clinton said NATO was working to "develop an operations plan" to take on the broader responsibility for protecting civilians on the ground.
A senior Obama administration official later insisted that a political agreement had been reached that would also see NATO take control of aspects of the UN Security Council resolution that call for actions to protect civilians, but told reporters the details remained to be worked out.
"By this weekend, we should be able to execute not only the command and control for the no-fly zone, which we did this evening, but also the command and control of the protection of civilians," the official told reporters. "We are continuing the operational planning, but we have made a fundamental agreement on how to move forward."
The compromise that saw NATO take responsibility for the no-fly zone resulted from Turkey's insistence that NATO should strictly limit itself to policing the no-fly zone, refraining from more aggressive actions such as the bombing earlier this week of a compound of Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi.
That request sat uneasily with France and Britain's insistence that airstrikes to protect civilians should go on.
Earlier Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu signaled that a compromise had been found as he told state broadcaster TRT that the way was clear for NATO to take over control.
Turkey's stance was said to be linked to its strong objection to Western military intervention in a Muslim country.
On Wednesday, another green light came from France as officials announced that a request to subject NATO's military command to the "political oversight" of foreign ministers from countries taking part in the strikes had been accepted.
Later on the day, Britain announced that a "Libya contact group" would convene in London on Tuesday.
Rasmussen said NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, US Admiral James Stavridis, would oversee the no-fly zone operation. On Tuesday he was put in charge of a third operation - naval patrols in the Mediterranean to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya.
The transfer of responsibilities from the US to NATO for the no- fly zone operation would take place "in the coming days," Rasmussen said.
Before the deal was announced, Vice Admiral William Gortney said in Washington the US would "hand over the lead ... as early as this weekend."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States would not contribute any fighter jets to the long-term enforcement of the no- fly zone.
"The United States will continue to have a role, but it will not be a lead role in the enforcement of the no-fly zone. It will be a support-and-assist role," Carney told reporters.
Clinton said NATO was "well suited" to take charge of the effort and said she welcomed additional countries joining the coalition, including an announcement Thursday from the United Arab Emirates that it would contribute.
"The danger is far from over," Clinton said. "As long as the Gaddafi regime threatens its people and defies the United Nations, we must remain vigilant and focused."