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NATO Agrees To Take Lead In Libyan Military Campaign

March 24, 2011

NATO ministers have agreed that the alliance will assume control of coalition military operations in Libya, ending days of debate over who the United States would hand off leadership of the mission to.

Agreement had stalled over objections from Muslim member Turkey, but today Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutflu told reporters in Ankara that "the operation will be handed over to NATO completely."

Reports from Brussels said the deal was reached after a conference call between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the foreign ministers of Turkey, France, and Britain.

U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortney told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that the handoff of lead command could come as soon as this weekend.

Clinton is also set to travel to London next week for an international conference to coordinate the strategy and military operation against Qaddafi's government, according to a U.S. official who spoke to the Associated Press before an official announcement expected later today.

UN Security Council Told Qaddafi 'In Violation'

Wary of involving the United States in another military operation in a Middle Eastern Muslim country, President Barack Obama has been determined since the start of the campaign that Washington only occupy the lead role for a few days.

Congressional staff members said today that he plans to send his top military and foreign policy aides to brief members of Congress next week on why he decided to send U.S. forces into Libyan skies. Obama has been criticized by members of both major political parties for acting hastily and without Congress's consent.

Rebel fighters in the desert along the Benghazi-Ajdabiyah road today.

Meanwhile at the United Nations, the Security Council -- which last week passed Resolution 1973 authorizing military invention to protect Libyan civilians -- heard from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Qaddafi's troops are disregarding their own ceasefire pronouncements.

In a briefing on the resolution's implementation, Ban said the Libyan government had not "taken steps to carry out their obligations" and that human rights abuses were continuing."

"Those responsible for crimes against their people will be held accountable," he added.

Strikes In Tripoli

Fierce fighting continued in key Libyan cities today after a fifth consecutive night of air strikes. As night fell, reports from Tripoli were of anti-aircraft fire and three explosions in the capitol and its eastern suburb of Tajura.

Reporters on the ground said at least one blast was heard from the center of the city, while others came from Tajura, where a column of smoke rose from an undetermined location.

State television reported that "civilian and military sites in Tripoli and Tajura" had come under fire from "long-range missiles."

Earlier in the day, the official JANA news agency said coalition raids overnight on Tajura had killed "a large number" of civilians.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim late Wednesday pleaded for a halt of airs strikes. "The air strikes -- as what happened today -- did not differentiate between the civilians or the armed personnel," he said. "To start up the national dialogue and get back life back to normal, the air strikes should stop immediately."

There were also reports of government tanks pounding an area near the hospital in the rebel-held western city of Misrata, while snipers loyal to Qaddafi were firing indiscriminately.

Witnesses had earlier said the tanks around the besieged city had pulled back from their positions under air assault from international forces. In the east, fierce fighting was reported between rebels and pro-Qaddafi forces in the strategic town of Ajdabiya.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said today that coalition air strikes against Libya had been a "success" and would "continue as long as necessary."

Juppe told RTL radio that there have been no reports of civilian casualties caused by allied action, adding that the strikes were "only targeting military sites and nothing else."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking in the House of Commons, said "the case for this [military] action remains utterly compelling," and cited what he called the "appalling violence" against Libyan citizens.

He also said London continues "to deepen our contacts with the Libyan opposition, including the interim national council based in Benghazi. I spoke to Mahmoud Jebril, the special envoy of the council, on Tuesday to discuss the situation on the ground and to invite him to visit London. In the words of the Arab League resolution, the current regime has completely lost its legitimacy."

At today's Pentagon briefing, U.S. Vice Admiral Gortney said the United States had a message for forces and officials loyal to Qaddafi: "Our message is simple: stop fighting, stop killing your own people, stop obeying the orders of Colonel Qaddafi."

compiled from agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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