Sun, March 27, 2011
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NATO poised to take full command of Libya mission

2011-03-27 14:53:38 GMT2011-03-27 22:53:38(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BRUSSELS, March 27 (Xinhua) -- NATO ambassadors are meeting on Sunday to decide whether to approve airstrike plans against Libyan ground forces to protect civilians, which will pave the way for the alliance to assume full command of Libya operations from the United States.

After days of hard bargaining among its members, NATO has now agreed to enforce arms embargo and the no-fly zone, but failed to reach an agreement on whether the alliance should bomb Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces, as Turkey expresses strong reservations.

As NATO has approved the plans of the no-fly zone and arms embargo, NATO ambassadors are due to meet late Sunday to discuss remaining military operations that it hasn't covered in order to protect civilians in Libya, a NATO official told Xinhua, without giving further details.

NATO officials have said that the alliance would set out clear rules of engagement for the mission to protect civilians to alley concerns of some members.

If the North Atlantic Council reaches a consensus on attacking Libyan ground forces, the alliance would take full command of the coalition operations against Libya next week, the no-fly zone and airstrike, which are currently led by the United States that has been eager to step back and in favor of NATO to take the reins.

Meanwhile, NATO is working on enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya and is expected to take over command from the United States on Monday.

A NATO official said that the operations would require "a significant number of aircraft," involving 5-10 AWACS surveillance planes, 10-15 refuelling aircraft and dozens of fighters.

The force generation conference will be held soon, with 10 NATO members and the Gulf state of Qatar having pledged to contribute, he said.

In addition, NATO has named Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, a Canadian, to command the alliance's Libya operations from NATO's Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy.

However, while the disputes over the military command structure mainly between France, Britain, the United States and Turkey are about to settle down, who will lead politically remains elusive.

Britain will host an international conference on Libya in London on March 29, which is to set "the wide political guidance" for the military operation, as NATO takes the military command.

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