The U.S. and its allies worked to expand the protective shield in the skies over Libya on Monday, while political skirmishing broke out over who would take command of the continuing international operation.
President Barack Obama reiterated that the U.S. will run the campaign for only a limited time, handing command to coalition partners “in a matter of days and not a matter of weeks.” The U.S. will be “one of the partners among many,” Mr. Obama said on a visit to Chile.
A key question was what role the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would take. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Monday called for command of operations enforcing the no-fly zone to be passed to NATO, suggesting the use of Italy’s seven military bases by coalition forces lacked proper coordination. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron also said NATO should lead operations. But France, which just rejoined NATO’s command structure in 2009 after three decades, indicated it doesn’t want NATO to play a central role.
Prime Minister Cameron told Parliament on Monday that “coalition forces have largely neutralized Libyan air defenses and as a result the no-fly zone has effectively been put in place in Libya.”
On Edge in Libya
Despite coalition missile strikes Sunday on buildings in the Tripoli compound where Col. Gadhafi lives, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron stressed that killing the Libyan strongman wasn’t a goal of the operation. Mr. Cameron said, “I have been clear I think Libya needs to get rid of Gadhafi, but [while] we are responsible for trying to enforce the Security Council resolution, the Libyans will choose their own future.”
The three-day-old air campaign has, at least for now, stopped a Libyan government attack that appeared on the verge of extinguishing the month-long rebellion. Despite the military progress, the political unity of the coalition appeared fragile.
Italian Foreign Minister Frattini said, “We believe that the time has come to go beyond a coalition of volunteers to a more coordinated approach under NATO.” A spokesman for the French army said NATO’s participation should be in a “supporting role.”
NATO diplomats said Turkish objections continued to halt the alliance’s participation in the no-fly zone. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country’s support is possible but only if NATO’s operation doesn’t turn into an occupation to divide up Libya’s oil.
Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin touched a sensitive issue when he likened the Libya mission to “some kind of Medieval call to the crusades.” That provoked a rare public dissent by President Dmitry Medvedev, who called Mr. Putin’s language “absolutely unacceptable” and defended his own decision not to have Russia veto the U.N. resolution.