US likely to keep combat role in Libya
The United States welcomed a partial hand-over for the Libyan air campaign to NATO on Thursday, but the allies apparently balked at assuming full control, and the U.S. military was left in charge of the brunt of combat.
NATO agreed to take over command of the newly established no-fly zone over Libya, protective flights meant to deter Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi from putting warplanes in the air. That leaves the U.S. with responsibility for attacks on Gadhafi’s ground forces and other targets, which are the toughest and most-controversial portion of the operation.
The U.S had hoped the alliance would reach a consensus Thursday for NATO to take full control of the military operation authorized by the United Nations, including the protection of Libyan civilians and supporting humanitarian aid efforts on the ground. It was not immediately clear when the allies could reach agreement on the matter.
“We are taking the next step: We have agreed along with our NATO allies to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.
“All 28 allies have also now authorized military authorities to develop an operations plan for NATO to take on the broader civilian protection mission,” Clinton said.
Lines of authority were unclear Thursday night, but it appeared the NATO decision sets up dual command centers and opens the door to confusion and finger-pointing. U.S. commanders presumably would be chiefly responsible for ensuring that the NATO protective flights do not conflict with planned combat operations under U.S. command.
The Pentagon indicated U.S. warplanes will keep flying strike missions over Libya.
Senior administration officials said the breakthrough came in a four-way telephone call with Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Turkey. The four worked out the way forward, which included the immediate transfer of command and control of the no-fly zone over Libya, and by early next week of the rest of the U.N.-mandated mission.