NATO eyes Libya endgame

AFP , Wednesday 8 Jun 2011

As Gaddafi announces continued defiance, NATO members agree in crisis meeting to increased military pressure in Libya. More participation is requested from inactive members.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

NATO defence ministers huddle Wednesday for talks on the air war in Libya amid calls for allies to step up their contributions as strikes to dislodge a defiant Muammar Gaddafi escalate.

With NATO fighting in two continents, the ministers meeting for two days of talks in Brussels were to discuss the nearly three-month-old air war in Libya as well as the nearly 10-year-old ground battle in Afghanistan.

The ministers will later Wednesday meet with their Russian counterpart for discussions on a missile shield for Europe.

While the alliance is looking to start a drawdown of ground forces in Afghanistan in July, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen wants NATO members that have taken a backseat in Libya to contribute more to the mission.

Although Gaddafi still controls much of western Libya including his Tripoli stronghold, NATO says it is only a matter of time before he goes and it has increased the pressure with daily strikes on Tripoli to hasten that day.

"Obviously some of those allies and partners carrying the heavy burden start to ask whether it would be possible to broaden the participation a bit, and that's the point I will focus on at the defence ministers meeting," Rasmussen said Monday.

Only eight of the alliance's 28 members, plus non-NATO partner the United Arab Emirates, have conducted air strikes. France and Britain have carried out the bulk of the air raids.

Others take part in other aspects of the mission, but around a dozen have not contributed any assets.

A wave of NATO air strikes battered Tripoli again early Wednesday, piling pressure on Gaddafi, who in an audio broadcast said he was "near" the bombing but vowed never to surrender.

NATO has vowed to keep pounding the Gaddafi regime as long as civilians are threatened and is already thinking about what role it will have the day after the veteran strongman falls, as it predicts he inevitably will.

US Admiral Samuel Locklear, a senior NATO commander, suggested last week that a small force might be necessary after Gaddafi leaves power. The troops, he added, could be provided by the UN, the European Union or NATO.

"We are not pursuing planning on that, we are having discussions about it because we may or (may) not have to do something quickly," he said.

Rasmussen said NATO could help reform Libya's defence and security sector but he did not see a "major role" for the alliance, leaving the task of guiding the Libyans in a democratic transition to the United Nations.

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