NATO delays Libya command takeover to Thursday

AFP , Tuesday 29 Mar 2011

NATO postpones taking over the military campaign in Libya till Thursday due to "political uncertainty"

NATO is delaying its takeover of all military operations in Libya by 24 hours to Thursday at 0600 GMT, an alliance diplomat said Tuesday.

The 28-nation military alliance agreed Sunday to take command of the US-led campaign, and US President Barack Obama said the transfer would be completed on Wednesday.

But the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an extra day was needed for a smooth transition from US to NATO command.

The delay is also necessary because contributions from some allies could depend on the outcome of an international conference on Libya taking place in London on Tuesday, the diplomat said.

"Given the small political uncertainty linked to the London meeting on Tuesday, which the engagement of some allies may depend on, we found it reasonable to delay the effective transfer of responsibility by one day," the diplomat said. "NATO will effectively take over command of Libyan operations on Thursday at 0600 GMT."

NATO ships have been enforcing an arms embargo off Libya's coast since last week, and alliance planes started policing the skies above Libya on Sunday to prevent Muammar Gaddafi's warplanes from flying.

But the third aspect of military operations in Libya, strikes against ground forces threatening civilians, is still being coordinated by the United States, the NATO diplomat said.

The United States was eager to hand off responsibility for the campaign, which has pounded Kadhafi's forces with a barrage of air strikes and sea-based missiles since March 19.

It took a week of squabbling for NATO to overcome French and Turkish objections and agree to replace the Americans.

France had tried to keep political control away from NATO, while Turkey criticised the scope of the Western air strikes and was reluctant to let NATO take part in such operations.

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