NATO takes control of Libya campaign
NATO agreed March 24 to take control of enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after lengthy negotiations: "We are taking action as part of a broad international effort to protect civilians against the Qaddafi regime." Rasmussen said the NATO operation was limited to enforcing the no-fly zone, but reports indicated that NATO members reached a "political agreement" to also command all other operations ostensibly aimed at protecting civilians—meaning strikes against Qaddafi's ground forces. The UK's Defense Secretary Liam Fox said that British Tornado jets launched missiles overnight at Libyan armored vehicles in the strategic eastern town of Ajdabiya.
Libyan state television said "civilian and military sites in Tripoli and Tajura" had come under fire from "long-range missiles," claiming a civilian death toll of over 100 from Allied bombardment. The US commander of the operation, Gen. Carter Ham, said Allied forces "cannot be sure" there have been no civilian deaths, but are trying to be "very precise." Ham, head of US Africa Command, also said Libya's air defenses "essentially no longer exist" after being destroyed in strikes, and that coalition forces are now targeting Libyan troops attacking civilians.
Fighting also raged in rebel-held Misrata, some 215 kilometers east of Tripoli, where attacks by Qaddafi forces have claimed a mounting death toll—also estimated at some 100 since Qaddafi's siege of the city began. A Qaddafi fighter plane that defied the no-fly zone was destroyed by a French air-strike after it landed in Misrata. The Pentagon said 12 countries are now taking part in the coalition seeking to enforce the no-fly zone—including two Arab nations, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. A senior US official said the UAE had contributed 12 aircraft. (Middle East Online, March 25)
Qatar has sent warplanes to patrol over Libya, becoming the first Arab state to take part in military operations to enforce a no-fly zone under a UN resolution. The United Arab Emirates, like Qatar a key US ally, has also committed six F-16 and six Mirage fighters to help enforce the no-fly zone over its fellow Arab country and that its flights would start "in the coming days." (Middle East Online, March 25)
Qaddafi sent ministers to African Union talks on the Libya conflict in Addis Ababa, which also included EU, UN and Arab League representatives. An invitation to the Libyan opposition to attend was not apparently not taken up. AU Commission chairman Jean Ping said the African Union, which is opposed to foreign military intervention, wants to "facilitate dialogue between the Libyan parties" and that it favors putting in place an "inclusive transition period that will lead to the elections of democratic institutions." The AU chief described the situation in Libya as "extremely serious, both for Libya itself and for the region as a whole." (AFP, March 25)