New allies join Libya offensive to show 'solidarity'

AFP , Tuesday 22 Mar 2011

Norway, Denmark, Canada and Belgium send fighter jets to battle Gaddafi scoring points with UN and electorate

An F-15 jet fighter takes off from the NATO airbase in Aviano, Italy, Monday, (AP).

A slew of nations have joined global powers France, Britain and the United States in an international campaign to impose a no-fly zone on Libya but with very different motives, analysts say.

Following the United Nations' Security Council Resolution 1973, Norway, Denmark, Canada and Belgium have all sent fighter jets to the Mediterrenean to cripple Moamer Kadhafi's forces which has been attacking Libyan civilians.

Denmark's NATO-enthusiastic, centre-right government wants to take a leading position in supporting the uprisings in the Arab world, they say.

Unlike its past military commitments in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq, its role in Libya has strong domestic public support.

"Denmark has been on the front line ... during all the Arab uprisings and is also there for Libya," Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said Friday.

"We are a small country, but we have the historic responsibility to live up to our international responsibility," he told reporters shortly before the parliament voted unanimously in favour of the government's proposal to take part in the Libyan mission.

With general elections set to take place before November, the move is allowing Denmark's government to score points with the electorate -- strongly in favour of the mission -- and Washington, said Bjoern Moeller, a specialist of African conflicts at the Danish Institute for International Affairs.

Jan Egeland, the former head of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief at the UN who now heads up the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, agreed.

"For many years now, Denmark has had the immediate reflex to support any mission in which the United States is involved," he said.

Norway -- which beat around the bush much more than its southern neighbour before also sending six F-16 fighter jets -- is basing its participation in Libya much more in its "long tradition of support to the UN," Egeland added.

On Monday, Norway however said its jets would not take action as long as it was unclear who was commanding the multinational force.

The same day, Belgian fighter jets first took part in the UN-mandated operation "Odyssey Dawn", with Prime Minister Yves Leterme explaining almost simultaneously that his country was acting to "help these people gain freedom."

Canada, headed by a conservative government keen on asserting military power, has meanwhile sent six F-18 planes to a base on the Italian island of Sardinia, thousands of kilometers (miles) from its own territory.

This is fueled by Ottawa's wish to show "solidarity with its US and British allies, and by the desire to enforce the UN resolution," said Houchang Hassan-Yari, a political scientist at Canada's Royal Military College.

More inclined to follow the White House than their Liberal rivals, Stephen Harper's conservatives -- who form a minority government in the House of Commons -- may also not be insensitive to electoral considerations, he added.

"The events in the Arab world gave rise to euphoria in the ethnic communities in Canada," members of which "mostly vote for the centre-left," Hssan-Yari explained.

By acting in Libya, "Harper can try to rake in the political favour of those communities," he said.

The coalition can also count on Spanish, Italian and Qatari jets, which are bringing a precious Arab moral guarantee of sorts to the operation.

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