US looking to hand off leadership in Libya coalition - Obama

US looking to hand off leadership in Libya coalition - Obama

The Libya no-fly coalition carried out its third day of bombings on Libya's air defences as debate over the strategy caused splits among the coalition members, within NATO and even within the leadership of Russia, which is not participating in the action, dpa reported.

Countries that have notified the United Nations of their participation include the United States, France, Britain, Denmark, Canada, Italy and Qatar.

Spain has sent fighter jets to Sardinia with intentions to deploy. Norway has dispatched six F-16 fighter jets but was not flying missions until rules of engagement are clarified, Defence Minister Grete Faremo said.

Coalition forces were expanding the no-fly zone over Libya on Monday, moving it eastward toward the capital Tripoli from the initial focus on protecting civilians in the rebel stronghold Benghazi, said General Carter Ham, US commander of military operations.

He expected the no-fly zone would soon reach further south to Brega and west to Misrata. As the no-fly zone is expanded, more strikes will likely be needed to destroy Libyan government air defences that could fire on coalition planes.

A missile hit Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi's residential compound in Tripoli, according to televised images. Libyan government officials said there were no casualties from the compound bombing. One of Gaddafi's sons, Khamis, was reportedly injured in an attack, but the whereabouts of Gaddafi were not known.

Senior US and British military officers on Monday insisted that Gaddafi was "absolutely not" a target of the action, as Britain's chief of defence staff David Richards put it, nor was he authorized as a target by last week's UN resolution.

Nor did the mandate authorize provision of military support to the rebels, Ham said.

Yet US President Barack Obama repeated that Gaddafi "needs to go" and would continue to be pressured by non-military efforts to that end.

France, which has recognized the rebel Transitional National Council as "legitimate representative of the Libyan people," continued close contacts Monday with the group. A rebel representative, Ali Zeidan, met with diplomats at the French Foreign Ministry.

Obama said the US was looking to hand off the leadership role in the coalition within "days, not weeks," but US military commanders have not suggested who might take the lead, and there was division within NATO about the way forward.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini pushed Monday for command to be passed to NATO. But French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe suggested that the alliance has a bad reputation in the Arab world and noted opposition by the Arab League, whose support for the no-fly provided crucial political cover for Western actions.

Turkey opposed NATO taking the lead. Germany, which abstained from voting on last week's UN resolution, said it would not object to a NATO takeover as long as German troops were not involved.

A day after criticizing how the no-fly zone was being implemented, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa softened his opposition, saying he respected the UN resolution that imposed the no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilian activists.

Officially a neutral state, Switzerland allowed 20 British military vehicles to pass through its territory, saying they were on a UN mission and therefore did not violate its neutrality.

Russia did not employ its veto-power against the UN resolution last week, but that didn't keep Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from calling the no-fly action a "crusade" - a potent, provocative term that recalls the invasions of the Muslim world by Christian crusaders during the Middle Ages.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev slapped him down for inviting cultural clashes.

EU states approved a package of toughened sanctions against Libya. The asset freeze is expected to be expanded later this week to the Libyan National Oil Company (NOC).

At the United Nations, Tripoli protested the no-fly action and insisted on a Security Council meeting Monday afternoon, where it accused allied forces of killing civilians during airstrikes.

Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa accused the Security Council of paving the way for "military aggression" against Libyan territory in his letter requesting the meeting.

Bolivia and Zimbabwe joined the chorus of condemnation of the no- fly zone. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe accused the West of acting like "vampires" who are after Libya's oil.

Bolivian President Evo Morales demanded that the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament deprive US President Barack Obama of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize after he ordered airstrikes on Libya.

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Kazakhstan, Russia eye increasing mutual flights
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